Apple Notes '22
Producing the 2022 Crop...
The 2021 growing season was unusually hot and dry - how could we ever forget! We sweated through the summer, and began harvest in early September. The u-pick harvest pretty much ended at the close of the third week of October. Following the end of the u-pick harvest, we harvested our English apples. These apples are grown for hard cider. They were pressed into juice in mid-November, with the juice going to Liberty Ciderworks in Spokane. We then put all of our machinery and apple bins under cover and closed up for winter. The winter weather was relatively mild, and we were able to begin pruning in February. By early March, the weather was warming and the ground began to dry out. The dry weather was great for transplanting replacement trees from our nursery, into the orchard. The unseasonably dry weather extended through most of March. It was becoming dry enough that we were beginning to wonder if we were going to be in for another hot, dry summer, similar to the summer of 2021. This was concerning us - the blast furnace-like weather we experienced last year was hard on us and the trees. Our concerns evaporated when the rains started in late March. We then spent the next three months slogging through mud, wondering when the rain was going to end. We ran the wind machines during the early morning hours of April 16, when the temperature dropped to 24 degrees. The wind machines prevented the temperature from falling lower, and it was early enough so that the blossom buds were still sufficiently hardy to withstand the cold without significant damage.
The weather remained cool through April, May and June. Typically, we would have expected to see our first pear blooms around the third week of April, but not this year - we didn’t see our first pear blooms until May 5, with the first apple blooms appearing on May 11. Bloom progression in the orchard was glacially slow. By mid-May, we were beginning to fret that the bees would not have enough good flying weather to get their pollination chores done. It turned out that the bees were able to get out between storms, and they somehow managed to do a pretty good job of getting most of the blossoms pollinated. However, the number of blossoms was less than we had anticipated. Because last year’s fruit set was reduced due to April freezes, we had thought we would have a strong return bloom - we even thought we might have a snowball bloom (a snowball bloom occurs when all or almost all of the fruiting spurs on a tree flower, often following a reduced crop the year before). So, we were disappointed when we saw a marginal return bloom. We subsequently learned that many growers in the major apple-growing areas of the State experienced the same, poor return bloom. Apparently, the heat during June and July last summer was severe enough to adversely affect blossom bud formation for this year’s crop (the formation of current year blooms in initiated a few weeks after petal fall during the preceding summer). Never having experienced summer heat quite like that of last year, we simply didn’t realize what Mother Nature was setting us up for - we naively thought once we got through last summer’s heat, all would be well in our world.
Summertime usually finds us devoting a lot of our early season energies on getting our irrigation system up to snuff. Summer this year found us focusing instead on grass and weed control. The copious rains during the early part of the growing season must have seemed like nirvana to the weeds - we produced some spectacular stands of weeds, especially thistles. Too bad there isn’t a market for thistles. June and July were almost exclusively devoted to mowing and weed whacking. August finds us still working on the weeds, but more and more of our time is now spent on irrigation. Hopefully by harvest time we will have finally gotten the upper hand on the weeds - if not, then the orchard may seem shaggier than normal.
Despite all of our early-season fretting about bad weather and marginal return bloom, we actually have a pretty decent crop. Fruit size could be an issue for some varieties as a result of the hot August weather, late bloom and short growing season. Each apple variety has its own, optimal length of a growing season. For example, McIntosh require about 130 frost-free days to mature, and Golden Delicious take about 150 days. As long as the weather does not turn cold too soon, the McIntosh should have marginally enough time to size up. However, the later ripening varieties won’t unless the good weather holds into October.
We expect to open for the season on Saturday, September 10. We will lead off with Summerreds, followed by our other varieties as they ripen. Our hours will be 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. We will also be open for u-picking only on Thursday and Friday afternoon, 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. during September, and thereafter from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. to the conclusion of the harvest season.
Cider making will begin September 17. Cider making will be available only on Saturday and Sunday, and will be by reservation only. For the first time ever, we are requiring a two-gallon minimum. Like last year, reservation requests must be made by email. The email system worked O.K., but it was not without its bumps and hiccups. The biggest hiccup was a typo in the email address listed in last year’s newsletter. The correct address is:
The address that appeared in last year’s newsletter omitted the “s” in “bishopsorchard.” Why we didn’t notice this when we proofed the newsletter draft we will never know - there were three of us that read and re-read the draft before the newsletter was printed and mailed - apparently, we saw only what we wanted to see. We didn’t realize the error until a customer alerted us after trying unsuccessfully to contact us by email. Those who did successfully secure reservations used the addresses listed on our website and Facebook, which did not include the typo. We sincerely apologize to those who attempted to make reservations using the incorrect address. We promise, we were not just intentionally ignoring you.
We will begin accepting requests for reservations on Tuesday, September 13. Requests must include:
number of adult cider-makers in your group
number of gallons you anticipate making
your preference for a date and time
your contact number
The number of cider-makers and anticipated gallons will allow us to schedule enough time so that you can make your cider. If you don’t include the information with your request, we may not be able to schedule you in. Please try to arrive at the scheduled time. One problem we had last year was folks who arrived too late to make all of the cider they wanted. Another problem was no-shows. If you find you cannot make it for your scheduled reservation, please let us know as soon as possible. For those who don’t let us know, we reserve the right to refuse any future reservation requests. Obviously, there will be occasions when reservation holders cannot let us know in a timely manner that they won’t make it. If they provide us with a reasonable explanation for their failure to show, we won’t hold it against them.
Cider making safety...
You will need to remember to bring your own jugs and containers for the cider - we don’t have any spare jugs. Jugs and containers should be clean. Like any natural fruit juice, cider can become contaminated by harmful bacteria. Using good food preparation habits while handling cider is a must to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. The biggest risk of contamination comes from those handling the cider, an important vector being unwashed hands. To reduce risk of contamination, ALWAYS wash your hands before you begin making cider, and keep them clean until you are done and the cider is in the jug. You will be responsible to assure that your cider is free of bad bacteria. The only practical method that we know of to completely eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination is pasteurization. Pasteurization is a relatively simple process; it involves heating the raw cider to approximately 160° F, then quickly cooling and storing it in good, clean containers. By no means should you boil the cider - boiling destroys the unique flavor of cider. Once pasteurized, the cider should be refrigerated and treated with the same care as any other food.
We are quickly learning that climate change is not going to be a benign process, nor will it mean that we will soon be growing bananas and oranges. When we began planting the orchard in 1978, there was a predictability to the weather that we could count on from year to year. While some years had warmer winters than others, and some summers were hotter, drier, or wetter than others, the variance from year to year rarely broke records. In recent years, a trend has developed that has exposed us to more and more extreme weather events, and there is nothing to suggest that these events will diminish. While winters in recent years have generally trended milder, late winter and springtime is more and more often punctuated by sudden arctic air blasts which put the fruiting buds in jeopardy. These arctic air events seem to occur anytime from late February through April. These events have affected our Empires more than any other variety. Empire apples have a tendency to begin coming out of winter dormancy sooner than our other apple varieties (even though Empires are a mid-season bloomer). Empire has been a very popular apple, filling in as the McIntosh season came to an end, and has been a reliable producer for us. Now, with the increasing frequency of these arctic air blasts, the Empires have become anything but reliable. Beginning about 2010, good Empire crops have become sporadic, to the point where we have now not had a decent Empire crop in more than three years. If the trend continues, we can see the time coming when we will have to say goodbye to our beloved Empires and replace them with a variety that is less susceptible to these arctic air blasts.
We are also experiencing the developing trend for extreme heat events in the summer. So far, most of our varieties seem to be more-or-less able to successfully cope with the heat, but we wonder how much longer that will last. Some of our apples growing on the south and west sides of the trees have begun to evidence a growing trend to show sunburn by late summer. The Summerred block on trellis in the new orchard seems to be particularly susceptible to sunburn. We can envision a time in the near future when we may have to provide shading (netting) for this block. Another alternative would be to apply kaolin (clay) to the apples on the west sides of each row, although we would probably not want to then use any of these apples for cider-making unless we could come up with a method of scrubbing the clay off of the apples - it can be pretty tenacious.
Climate change has not been all doom and gloom - we have noticed some of our late-ripening apple varieties actually get ripe more often. For example, our Golden Delicious now regularly get fully ripe - there are few apples sweeter than a tree-ripened Golden Delicious. This trend portends a time in the future when we may be able to grow some of the longer season apples that perform well for growers in central Washington, but which we can presently only dream about. As for those bananas and oranges, we can still dream, can’t we?
Our apples provide the basis for many of the hard ciders produced by Liberty Ciderworks in Spokane. These ciders are sold throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and have earned a solid reputation in the world of artisan ciders. We are quite proud of the contribution our humble apples make in the production of Liberty’s very excellent ciders. The climate and soil of the Palouse have the potential to yield world-class hard cider. We will again host Liberty’s seasonal tasting room at the orchard to showcase some of its ciders, which will provide an opportunity to experience another dimension to our apples.
We are in the process of wrapping up the construction of a new website. The website is being built by Colby Cocking, who worked for us during his high school years. We are quite excited about what Colby has done so far. When fully operational for next season, we expect it to include a matrix for scheduling cider-making reservations. The site should be mostly up and running sometime this harvest season. The address is https://www.bishops-orchard.com/. The existing website will remain active to the end of harvest. Next year’s newsletter and schedule will be posted on the site. We will send out postcards just before harvest, reminding everyone of the posting. For those still wanting to receive a mailed copy, please let us know after you receive your postcard.
Apples, pears and prunes will be $.50/lb. Cider apples (excluding English apples used for hard cider production) will be priced at $8.00 per gallon of juice pressed.
Some Final Comments...
We encourage you to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of our picnic tables or under the shade of an apple tree in a private corner of the orchard. You are welcome to wander around and explore the orchard, and you can sample the fruit - we won’t be asking you to step on the scales on your way out. We also invite you to rest your weary feet and sit on one of the benches scattered through the orchard. Please do not enter any outbuildings unless specifically authorized to do so.
Please don’t climb the trees; the limbs are very brittle, climbing breaks off fruiting spurs. Besides, falling from a tree is not cool and could result in serious injury.
The orchard floor has sticks and windfall apples - please watch your step to avoid falls.
Please remember not to park in front of the homes across the street from the orchard.
And finally, please have fun when visiting the orchard!