Back on the night of the blood moon, Steve Jackson's 400 fruit trees were in danger.
Back on the night of the blood moon, Steve Jackson’s 400 fruit trees were in danger.
“It was down to 24 degrees,” said Jackson, who operates Phelps County’s only commercial orchard off Highway O south of Rolla. “That was a dangerous frost.”
Nevertheless, on Friday, April 25, the orchard was in full bloom, looking beautiful.
“Right now, the trees are in their flowering stages. All these blooms are in the process of being pollinated,” said Jackson, pointing out the honeybees and the bumblebees that are plentiful. “Once a blossom is pollinated, that’s what an apple is produced from.”
Continuing, he said, “Each blossom has the potential of producing more than one apple.”
How did the blooms on the 12 varieties of apple trees and three varieties of pear trees in his orchard manage to survive that 20-something-degree cold snap?
“The only thing we can do in those cases is spray water on them and freeze everything up,” he said, using a nozzle that creates a heavy mist that freezes over the leaves and blossoms that protects them.
Jackson laughs at the quizzical look, furrowed brow and slack jaw of his visitor.
“It’s counter-intuitive, but it works,” he said. “We got some leaf damage, but it didn’t seem to bother the blossoms.”
Fortunately, he said, “At that time they weren’t quite in full blossom.” They were more like buds. Still, they were in danger, but the misting and freezing protected them and gave the bees and other pollinators something to do for awhile.
“There’s a lot of activity right here,” Jackson said, looking up at one of the hundreds of flowering trees. “Just stand here and watch and you’ll see all the bees, gnats and other bugs that are in apple trees.”
Jackson doesn’t keep bees. “My neighbor over there has them, and we also have found that the bees are naturally plentiful here. I’ve never had a pollination issue.”
The blooming trees are at various stages, but Jackson estimated “they’re about 70 percent done” with blooming and pollination.
“That tree right there—it’s a Golden Delicious—it is right at its peak,” Jackson said Friday afternoon.
The orchard is moving into an important, busy time.
“This time of year is a critical time for mowing,” Jackson said. “Mowing keeps down the bugs and insects.”
Nevertheless, there will still have to be some spraying after the pollination is complete.
“If you spray now and do it right, you don’t have to worry later,” he said. Not spraying is not an option with fruit. “You have to do a little bit,” he said. “But we’re on the minimal side of spraying. I have customers who are not able to eat grocery store apples because of the spray, but they are able to eat ours.”
Frost and insects aren’t the only foes facing fruit growers. “Squirrels, raccoon, deer—anything will eat an apple,” he said.
He prefers, though, to keep the fruit for his customers who can expect to see pears around mid-August and then apples from the last week of August through the end of October. The Jackson orchard draws customers from a 100-mile radius, he said.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” Jackson said. “This is a mature orchard. It was planted in ’71-’72 by Jack and Mary Jo McDermott. We’ve done it now on a more commercial basis than they did.”
Jackson said he replaces 15-20 trees each year, buying them from Stark Bros. Nursery.
“That’s a 40-year-old tree,” he said, pointing to one, then turns and points at another. “That’s a four-year-old tree, and that is one I planted last year.”
When it comes time to pick, Jackson will take care of that, too. The orchard does not offer a “you-pick” option.
“This is a little more than a hobby,” he said, laughing.
Some facts about Missouri apples:
Here from the University of Missouri are some facts about Missouri apples:
• Missouri orchards have many varieties, so visit or call, and ask about their varieties and when those apples will be ready.
• The warm days and cool nights of August and September, usually experienced in Missouri, equals apples of rich flavor and good color.
• Missouri’s climate and soil combine to give Missouri apples a superb flavor.
• In 1890, Missouri produced 25 million bushels of apples and was the leading apple producing state. Dry years, early hard freezes, insects and diseases caused a big loss of apple orchards. Financial losses also had a serious effect on the orchard industry.
• The big three in Missouri apples are Jonathan, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.
• In Missouri Jonathan harvest starts about the first of September. Red Delicious usually follows shortly after and Golden Delicious are picked toward the end of September.
• Missouri has about 3,000 acres of bearing apple trees that produce an annual crop of 1 million bushels of apples.
• The Missouri State Horticulture Society, established in 1859, is the oldest agricultural organization west of the Mississippi River. Each year this organization of commercial fruit growers has an educational and business meeting the third week in January.
• The Missouri Apple Merchandising Board with regional representatives promotes the sale of apples, distributes promotional materials and sponsors apple research.
• Jonathan is the leading Missouri variety apple. Did you know that the Jonathan apple has been grown for over 150 years in Missouri?
• Golden Delicious is mild flavored, yet spicy and juicy. As a naturally sweet apple, it's a great apple for pies, apple sauce and fresh salads.
• Gala is an early variety that is ready in mid-August and is a juicy crisp and sweet apple.
• Fuji is the best keeping apple. It will retain its crisp juicy texture for several months in cold storage. Fuji is sweet and ready around mid-October.
(Source: http:// plantsci.missouri.edu/apple/facts.htm)