Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Apples in the Annapolis Valley

The heart of Apple growing country in the Maritimes of Canada is right here in our own backyard. The Annapolis Valley, particularly the area around Berwick, is absolutely chock full of orchards on both sides of the valley. The soil, sun and moisture here all combine to grow good crops of tree fruits and indeed the first settlers brought with them trees from Europe for their homesteads. Evidence of the long history can be seen in abandoned orchards of ancient trees and the amazing array of 'apples gone wild' that adorn many roadsides and hedgerows, including those at our farm. The apples have all returned to crab form but that's ok because they're still useful and the blossoms in the Spring are wonderful for man and bee alike.

The history of Apples in the Annapolis Valley (one of our sons thinks it's ironic that we grow apples in 'an apple-less valley') was firmly established by the 1700's and by the early 1900's the Berwick area was growing and shipping apples to Europe in enormous quantities. With the outbreak of war in the 1940's and the destroying of so many cargo ships they branched out into other manufacturing and storage ideas including sending Britain barrels of dried apples that took up less space and weight when being shipped.

Today the orchards send their apples to be stored for sale locally and you'll also find a good chunk of our inventory sold across eastern Canada for fresh sale or for processing into everything from juice to fruit leather. But for a lucky few of us, we can spend a lovely fall day in the orchard picking our own apples. Many farms offer U-Pick and the easiest way to find them is to drive around and look for signs. Of the maybe 12 listed farms in NS on the tourism website I know that there are maybe 4 times that many actual U-Picks and they're open for picking from Late August to the end of October depending on variety.

Yesterday Christopher loaned me his truck to go get apples for the pigs. A 700+lb bin of drop apples (found on the ground, too small to sell or bruised) for $50 is a good deal for me as a farmer, gets rid of something that's commercially unsellable for the orchard, and the pigs ADORE apples. I think that yesterday between the pigs, sheep, turkeys, chickens and ducks they probably scoffed down the better part of 200 lbs in one day. It was amazing to behold and quite fun to watch them all crunching away. One of our ewes named Freckles got a sour apple at one point and you could just see the surprised look on her face and the saliva well in her mouth, lol. It didn't stop her from finishing the apple and getting a dozen more.  But fattening pigs and lambs on apples is a really nice way to produce great meat. We'll have lamb available next week and free range chicken too. And ours really are free range.

If you're looking to pick your own apples here in the Annapolis Valley you can visit a U-Pick or adopt a tree. This entails choosing your tree, having a sign with your family name on it placed below the tree, and then when the apples are ripe you can come along and pick. We adopted a couple of Cortland apple trees from Johnson's Stonehenge Farm just above Greenwood/Aylesford. It's $50 to adopt a tree and you usually get around 200 lbs of apples. It's so much fun to reconnect with nature in the fall as you pick your apples and take them home to be made into pies, crisp, sauce, dried and eaten fresh. Cortlands are good for that also because they are picked around Thanksgiving here in Canada so it's a fun family activity on the long weekend and will keep the kids busy while Mum is in the kitchen roasting up the turkey. The short drive (it's less than 10 mins from Greenwood) is worth it for the view alone because as you drive along Harmony Road you get a gorgeous view of the valley.

Another local farm is going to allow us to pick Spy and Ida Red apples at the end of October for our storage (both varieties are good keepers) for $50 per bin which is a fantastic deal. I'm very happy! Hopefully we will be settled in our new place by then and we can get a lot of drying and canning done. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime I'm off to drop kids off at the bus stop then helping a family from Church to move

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