Last weekend, Scott, with Benny's help. grafted (or "topworked") half of our ancient Golden Delicious to Muscat de Bernay, an old bittersweet apple from Normandy, France, that gives our ciders structure and nuance. For an apple to grape comparison, maybe think of Malbec or another variety with high tannins and low acidity, great for blending. It's not a direct comparison because while Malbec can make for a lovely single-varietal, you probably wouldn't enjoy a single-variety Muscat de Bernay cider. Well, not unless you're glutton for astringency and bitterness... Hoping these grafts take and we'll have a bountiful Muscat de Bernay harvest in years to come. Our Muscat trees in our orchard have been doing great and even gave us a nice little yield in 2013.
Bam! Four days after spring has sprung, the apple trees are going mad with blossoms. The latest blooms from our cider orchard on the outskirts of Sebastopol are below (see previous blog post for first round of blossoms). Remember the four categories of apples? Sharp = low tannin, high acid; bittersharp = high tannin, high acid; sweet = low tannin, low acid; bittersweet = high tannin, low acid.
March 22: Ashmead's Kernel (sharp), Hendrie Huffcap (perry pear, very rare!)
March 24: Red Jonathan (sharp), Virginia Hewes (bittersharp), Wickson (sharp), Golden Russet (sharp), Nehou (bittersweet), Espous Spitzenberg (sharp)
Our 2-acre cider orchard at our Sebastopol farm held up well during our Winter That Wasn’t. Up until last month, we were facing a catastrophic drought here in California—the driest in recorded history. Now, after up to 18 inches of rain in February and early March, with more showers in the forecast, we’re dealing with a serious drought. I hope by the next post, I’ll be able to downgrade it to a minor drought! The trees are all on drip irrigation and heavily mulched, so they've retained the much-needed moisture. Scott grafted and planted a few hundred cider apples and perry pear trees during the late winter. We now have about 100 varieties in some stage of growth. It’s become a pomological research station here, and our goal is to both grow these rare apples for our cider as well as see which cider apple varieties will thrive in our loamy Goldridge soils, and share that information with local growers so they will get on board with cider apples here in Sonoma County. It feels so satisfying to put apples back on the Gravenstein Highway.
The apples started blossoming even earlier than last year, due to the exceptionally warm and dry winter. Knock on applewood that there is no freeze; the weather forecast looks promising for relatively mild evenings. Here's a summary of the first blossoms that have appeared in our orchard so far. I'm obsessed with documenting this stuff.
March 6: Transcendent Crabapple
March 10: Winter Banana
March 17: Gravenstein
March 20 (vernal equinox!): Purple Crabapple, Pink Pearl, Roxbury Russet
In addition to the orchard, we grow a fairly sizable veggie garden, as well as cutting flowers, wildflowers, perennial herbs, one lone olive, a few raspberry and blueberry bushes, other fruit trees, hops, cover crops, and insectary plants. You practically can't walk an inch without brushing against a ladybug here. Grasshoppers are also buzzing around, dang it, but so are dragonflies and all manner of bees, from honeybees to various small native bees and bumblebees. Mustards and arugula flowers are main attractants, but so are the rosemary flowers, dandelions, and native California wildflowers, such as California poppies, baby blue eyes, five spot, and tidy tips. It's a bird sanctuary here as well (all of our cats have passed away, sadly, but none of them were bird killers so they didn't present a problem while they were alive). Western bluebirds, mockingbirds, scrub jays, many types of finches and sparrows, black phoebes, crows, red-shouldered hawks, downy woodpeckers, robins, towhees, and many other species call our farm home. We've even had recent visits from a female pileated woodpecker and a noisy flock of cedar waxwings. It's gorgeous and oh so lush right now, and our hens and babydoll sheep are gorging themselves on all the vegetation. It's a feast for all the senses.