2022 lean-average crop. Good quality for some varieties, very bad for others.
Dry: The 2022 growing season in these parts was another dry one. Even for older established and large trees, most of my locations for harvesting or foraging received below average rainfall. As a cider maker, it’s easy to think dry is good, as this can lead to higher sugar levels and more concentrated flavors. But like most things, the devil is in the details. We had low snowfall last winter, followed by a very dry spring. Many trees actually had a reasonably good bloom, and from my observation, a fairly good pollination window and fruit-set. But the 3-5 week window following fruit-set saw a massive fruit drop with many varieties. I believe it was a combination of dry, excessively warm conditions, and high insect pressure.
Heat & Fire Blight: Late May and early June saw some exceptionally warm and dry conditions. We actually had enough moisture to wet leaf surfaces and some nights with heavy dew, but the big penetrating rains did not happen around here. This stressed out young trees and drove fire blight strikes beyond anything I’ve seen since I learned about FB 11 years ago. I have talked with a few other mountain growers here in VT (anyone not growing out in the Champlain Valley) who have all seen FB suddenly pop up in the past few years. We all thought we would be safe from it, for a while anyway, but it’s on in a big way and I will likely loose a few trees in the coming years. All the more reason to keep planting resistant varieties.
Insects and a case for biennialism:
I also had more insect issues this year at The Mountain Valley Farm orchard (in Waitsfield, VT) than any of the previous 10 seasons. Two possible reasons here:
1.) Drop collection works, and I have not kept up with it for the past few seasons. For those who don’t know, this is a strategy (if you’re not spraying insecticides) where early drops (or any unusable drop for that matter) are removed from the orchard. It’s a bitch, but still beats spraying in my book. The idea is, the early drops likely have insect larva in them, and by removing the fruit from the orchard, you break the life cycle of the insect, reducing future populations. For years, I dutifully hauled off loads of drops and dumped them in other growers orchards. Nah just kidding. I actually took them to the Von Trapps pigs, and for a while, to a worm farmer in Northfield. I even tried composting them with high levels of Neem Oil, to some degree of success. It was a lot of work, and I began to question if it was even making a difference. So I stopped.
And now here I am in 2022 with maggot fly and codling moth infestation-galore. Cortland, Honey Gold, Atlas, Stacey, Sharon, Dabinnet and most of Connel Red and Fireside were partially unusable.
2.) I believe the second reason I saw insane amounts of maggot fly and codling moth pressure has to do with annual crop production. Following the hard swinging biennial pattern we have been in since the frosted spring blossom-bust of 2012, this year marked the first annual production I have seen in many varieties. I would like to attribute this to 10 years of pruning and soil building, but I observed similar annual production in unmanaged wild trees (that have been confirmed biennial producers for numerous seasons). WTF. We all complained about this biennialism, but I think one advantage to it is the interruption of the insect reproduction cycle: one year, you have a huge crop; bugs, sapiens, critters are all happy. The bugs lay lots of eggs that hatch out the next year, but there’s little fruit, so not as many of them reproduce. (If you’re a savvy orchardist, you use those lean years to really knock back your insect pressure; traps, drop collection, etc). This is, of course, all my internal speculation based on observation.
Harvest: Ultimately, like most years, I managed to get some great fruit to the press. Some of the local wild varieties I have been courting delivered in a big way. These include: Wligo Akwan (bittersweet), Gnar Gnar of New Philadelphia (bittersweet) and Wizow half russet (sharp).
Other cultivated varieties that did well this year include: Liberty, Yarlington Mill, Roxbury Russet, Golden Russet, Red Astrachan, Red Mac, old Mac, Lucious pear, Northern Spy and Winter Banana. On the "just ok” list, I would put: Dolgo crab, Spartan, Somerset Red Streak, Porters Perfection, Northwest Greening, Dudley, Kerr crab, Nova pear and Wolf River.
In the cellar, I definitely have some barrels and tanks with good promise and have already bottled (pet nat) a barrel of pear/apple blend. Over-all, sugar levels were average. Tannins seem high, just based on taste, and acidity has been all over the place. Dolgo came in at 14 g/L… actually a tad low. So… we shall see!! Aroma on many varieties seemed exceptional. Perhaps secondary metabolites were high as the trees worked to defend themselves?
Storage fruit: holding well in the fridge: Liberty, Northwest Greening, Northern Spy, Winter Banana, Connel Red and Red Mac (believe it or not). Red Mac and even the older strains of Mac are excellent keeping apples. At least the ones I have acces to.. from very old trees.
Hopefully you found some value in this.