Freeze watch: Day 3 of autumn and still nothing. Not even a frost.
Yes, the Durango area has received lots of rain – and mud, and rocks, and floating trash cans – but nights have stayed well above the 32-degree threshold that many of our garden crops and flowers dread.
I’m assuming the first freeze will arrive in the next couple weeks, but that is solely based on the climate history of previous years. A freeze in the first part of October would give us a growing season of about 115 to 120 days, which is pretty normal. Four months, that’s what you get – patient in May and June; praying in September and October. That’s your schedule. I hope you made the most of it.
These next couple of weeks also are the climax of the apple-harvest season. As day length and average temperatures decrease, the fruit put on some extra size, darken in color and become sweeter (sounds like me on a beach at Christmas time). And while the fruit load tends to be less than encouraging (spring freezes killed lots of flowers) there is still plenty to be had from our trees.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of walking the orchard at the Southwest Colorado Research Station, just outside of Yellow Jacket. Managed by Colorado State University Extension in Dolores and Montezuma County, this long-standing orchard features more than 30 varieties of apples, pears, peaches and plums. In a good season, the 300-plus trees contribute about 20,000 pounds of fruit, the majority of which is harvested at the annual U-Pick, which was held last weekend – sorry.
Over the years, I have spent my fair share of time at the orchard: It’s pretty close to heaven – full of blossoms in the spring, while the image of kids running up and down the rows and grabbing apples off of the trees in the fall is almost idyllic.
During this time, I have sampled my fair share of fruit. I have found my favorite varieties, for eating, canning and juicing as well as for pies and sauce. Some of those varieties, such as Jonathan, Royal Empire and Honeycrisp, can hold their own in any of those categories. I would tell you my favorite variety, but I like both of my feet, so I prefer to not shoot myself in either of them. There are only seven trees of my favorite variety in the orchard, and I want them all to myself.
The expectation is that, even with lighter yields, there will be enough apples for us to sell at the eighth annual Homegrown Apple Days, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5 at Buckley Park.
The CSU Extension Office and volunteers from our Colorado Master Gardener program will venture to the Yellow Jacket orchard and glean what wasn’t harvested at the U-Pick, with the hope the extra time on the tree only adds to the sweetness of the fruit and some of the later-ripening varieties (Fuji’s) will be ready to pick. But, nonetheless, there should be plenty of apples at great prices, and all proceeds will help fund the event in subsequent years.
What an event it will be! With apple pressing, live music, including Stillwater and Robby Overfield, lots of local food, pies, a pie-eating contest, educational booths, caramel apples and more, Apple Days is one of my favorite days of the year. The event personifies all that is so cool about our little recess in this corner of the state.
And did I mention there will be pie?
email@example.com or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.