Wild Apples, Bees and Stuff

Good news for deer hunters: From what I’ve encountered, there’s a bumper crop of wild apples.

I guess it all starts for me in the front yard, where, just off the road at the driveway outflow, stands an old, tired, scabby, partially hollow apple tree I cannot identify. In nearly 20 years of observation, this mystery apple tree, which may soon be identified if I take a sample apple to Tom Clark at Clarkdale Orchards, has had many sparse years, some with almost no apples at all, and one memorable year two years back, when it was so overloaded with deep burgundy-red, blemished, pear-shaped fruit that a major limb broke off and fell to the ground. A similar catastrophe is a distinct possibility this year, and it could happen soon from the looks of the sagging tree limbs and still smallish fruit.

When I described the apple and its peculiar, red-streaked, pinkish fruit under the skin to Clark and told him my brother-in-law who raises apples in Maine figured it was probably an old apple grafted from an adjacent cider orchard once associated with my tavern, he perked up, pondered briefly, asked a few questions and ventured a guess that it could be some sort of sheepnose apple, which I had never heard of. Not so with my brother-in-law. He was indeed familiar with sheepnose apples, and said he believed they had a strong western Massachusetts association. So, it won’t be long before I again pester Clark, sample in hand. If it’s a superior cider apple, maybe I can even find someone to utilize the fruit and make a batch of old-fashioned, pesticide-free, convivial beverage for the most special occasions only. In fact, I tried last time, querying my old buddy Steve Coutu, who once made a fine country hard cider I sampled around softball socials. He told me he had had his eye on it over the years and would love to make a batch if he still did so, but he quit his cider-making hobby long ago.

Oh well. Bad timing.

But enough on that neglected front-yard apple. I pass other wild apple trees in my daily travels, ones similarly loaded with tiny fruit, it green. Following windy rainstorms, some small apples wind up on the ground below, where my dogs eagerly search for and devour them daily, crunching down one after another until I move on. They’re definitely competing with wild critters, likely deer given the fact I have seen not a trace of bear scat in the vicinity.

The largest of four apple trees along Sunken Meadow’s perimeter is thus far the most prolific. It stands just off a high, steep, undercut-gravel, Green River bank in the southeast corner of our daily ramble. There are many green apples of various sizes in the tree, along with many daily overnight drops. The drops vary in circumference from a quarter to a dime. The dogs prefer the bigger ones and search them out vigorously. I stand and watch as they search and eat them, then allow them to submerge themselves up to their bellies in the refreshing stream below for a lusty, slurping drink before giving them a friendly whistle to embark on our final leg back to the truck.

Before we reach that tree, three others stand in a sheltered southwestern Sunken Meadow nook bordering marsh. These trees are holding green fruit that doesn’t seem to be shedding. Maybe the trees are protected from winds, or perhaps they’re just later apples. Whatever the reason, there don’t appear to be any drops because I have not seen my dogs find one despite daily diversions. Must be they can smell the fruit in the tree. Give it time and that fruit will be on the ground for my dogs and whatever other critters look for it, coyotes as well as deer and bear. Even squirrels, I think. Maybe rabbits. What I see that suggests small animal foraging is nibbled, partially eaten fruit on the ground. Who knows, maybe mice or chipmunks, too. Likely someone will chime in on this subject to straighten me out. Possibly even my naturalist brother-in-law, who raised rabbits as a free-roaming Hampden lad.

Speaking of whom, ole Buzz told me his Montville, Maine, orchards are swollen with fruit due to great spring weather for pollination. When I asked if he had beehives, he said no, not honey bees, which are less-prolific pollinators than the native New England mason bees he intentionally attracts to his vast acreage of open mowings, orchard and woodlots by creating ideal habitats. He rotates cutting many different portions of his clover fields on a structured schedule to ensure there’s always simultaneous young and old growth, some sprouting, others flowering, still others gone to seed and ready to cut and reseed. Deer, turkeys, moose, bears and you name it take advantage of his private wildlife refuge protected with pure passion. One hen turkey he has named and figures to be 3 years old is with 17 chicks this year. Although he can’t be certain this bird hasn’t taken on an orphaned brood, he suspects not. The poults look like they all came from the same nest, judging from size and appearance.

But, back to the wild bees … he created ideal habitat for them by tidying up stonewalls and girdling selected trees to kill them and attract boring insects that leave holes, which mason bees, including the blue orchard type, make their home. The University of Maine at Orono has done a lot of research on these wild pollinators and online displays show drilled, vertical, 4-by-4 boards with drilled holes on the sides standing in fields for bees to populate. My brother-in-law says he has more than enough man-made bird nests to maintain, thus he goes the au naturel route with wild bees; economical indeed.

What I find interesting about these wild-bee pollinators, including bumble bees, is that I have read so many gloom and doom reports about the imported European honey bees placed willy-nilly throughout the valley on farms and around orchards. Yet not a word about the native-bee alternative, although I have to believe many local orchard growers are using them much like my creative brother-in-law, who’s always been good at saving a buck while living the good life.

Can’t fault that — in and of itself, an art.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top