In a muddy drizzle last week, we harvested the last of the oak leaf and lolla rosa lettuce, tilled under the remaining rain-stunted eggplant and peppers, and yanked out the tangled sprawl of tomatoes in the orchard.
The normally solemn end-of-season ritual was buoyed by some cranking iTunes, although “This is the End” by the Doors didn’t do much to lift the mood.
Antonia and Maren, Bavarian Gothic.
So we wallow in it. We top-dress it with compost, we till in manure, we rake and coddle it into cake flour. Winter will be here soon enough, and render it as hard and unyielding as stone.
Besides the Fall ritual of soil farming, we harvested some imperfect organic apples this week–blotched and mottled and beautiful. One antique variety, Hidden Blush, had a tart, rose-streaked interior. Another, Melrose, was the size of a softball, with a complex acid sweetness.
The Downing orchard is planted with historic apples and pears that were cultivated more than 150 years ago by famed landscape architect, pomologist and Newburgh native Andrew Jackson Downing. The orchard’s references to history and place are important to our mission here at Stonegate. Because the farm is on the National Historic Register, we’re intent on cultivating history as well, from antique apples to heirloom greens.
Some fruit this season was too far gone to be more than cider or chicken feed (five weeks of rain and two hurricanes saw to that!), but growing organic tree fruit will always be an unrequited affair. As the Beatles said: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
And the love we took from the farm this year was bountiful. Thank you for taking part. –Mb
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In the orchard of my imagination, well-ordered rows of pear, apple, plum an quince have by now turned delicate spring blossom into sun-burdened fruit; heavy on the branch, swollen by a long, sweet-tempered season. And, despite all the dire chatter about the difficulties of organic orchard management, my fruit is flawless.
The heirloom apple, Swaar, in fruit at Stonegate its first season. A tease or a sweet harbinger?
Then you channel surf into the Real World. Truth is, I lost half my English gooseberries and a third of my hybrid black currants to root rot and anthracnose fungus, and my plums and cherries barely broke bud before succumbing to some scourge or another.
Nineteenth Century Newburgh luminary Andrew Jackson Downing knew something about fruit. As the author of the authoritative Fruit and Fruit Trees of America, he championed the cultivation and preservation of heirloom varieties, and would have played Quixote to the bland, shippable selection at most markets.
In his description of the apple Swaar, one of twenty three Downing-described varieties we’re growing here, he says:
“This is a truly noble American Fruit, produced by the Dutch settlers on the Hudson, and so termed from its unusual weight, from the Low Dutch, meaning heavy. It is one of the finest flavored apples in America, and deserves extensive cultivation, in all favourable positions.”
And cultivate we will, and then some. New posts and wire have gone in this week to add even more varieties to the mix. They were purchased from a time-worn, scrappy lumber yard off of rt. 84 with an unshaven proprietor who bobbles about in a golf cart and seems to slink about your ankles as you load up your truck, purring approval at every purchase.
“Great posts. White cedar, straight as hell. And the wire’s imported from Germany. Last you years.”
Then he sizes you up to see how many years you may, in fact, have left. Orchards presume longevity, after all.
Fall has started to paint the garden.