Tuesday, September 14

Picking Apples Day 11: The Standard

At Cornell Orchards there is a small collection of very old trees known as standards.  This term refers to the rootstock, which in the case of these trees was grown from a seed.  Almost any apple tree in a conventional orchard is grown on a particular rootstock bred to produce a certain size tree, such as dwarf tree which will only grow to be eight to ten feet tall .  Prior to the propagation of particular rootstocks, all apple trees where grafted onto seedling rootstocks which would grow to the height and size of a wild apple tree.  These standard trees could easily reach eighteen to twenty feet in height and a similar breadth.  They are a whole different breed of apple tree, anachronisms in an age of controlled breeding and dwarf trees, magnificent stalwart giants of a time largely gone by. 
The rows of standard trees at Cornell used to stretch for almost a quarter mile, all the way to the treeline.  Now, rows of grapes and dwarf trees grow where these trees put down roots for almost a century.  Less than a dozen standard trees remain, mostly Cortlands and one McIntosh.  Today I got to pick that McIntosh.
Sixteen-foot straight ladders (eight foot in background)
After a morning of picking dwarf Cortland trees with eight foot tripod ladders we broke for lunch under the large McIntosh tree, surrounded by fallen apples.  Leaned up against the tree were two sixteen-foot straight wooden ladders waiting for us.  Finding the right nooks and crannies of the trees in which to place the ladder requires a lot of thought and a little intuition.  I felt as if I was picking apples they way they were meant to be picked; with thought and care and at the top of every climb up the ladder, an awe-inspiring view.  The tree took two of us about half an hour to pick and yielded only half a bin of apples, although I suspect there was another half of a bin on the ground under the tree.  High in the upper most reaches of the tree there were a few apples even our sixteen foot ladders and six foot bodies could not reach, as if the tree was reminding us that we can not always attain every fruit.
After we were done I took an apple from the bin, call it a reward if you will.  As McIntosh goes it was incredibly delicious, one of the best I have tasted.  The horticulturist in me knew that this could have little to do with the rootstock and much more with the particular variety grafted onto that rootstock, but I would like to believe that only a tree such as this one could yield such delectable fruit. 

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