Apple Harvest 2012: Carrying on the tradition

Apples and apple orchards are a time-honored tradition at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, and the 2012 apple harvest carries on that heritage.

Bushels and boxes of apples, circa 1930, from the Joy Morton Orchard Company.

Apple trees have thrived here since 1855, when J. Sterling Morton and his wife, Caroline, moved to Nebraska City from Michigan, and planted several varieties of apple trees on their homestead, the property now known as Arbor Day Farm.In the 1920s, J. Sterling and Caroline’s son, Joy – founder of the Morton Salt Company – partnered with Grove Porter and formed the Joy Morton Orchard Company on this land, one of many local orchards supplying a wide selection of apples for the southeast Nebraska region.

Today, the orchards at Arbor Day Farm are still going strong, even with the very dry year that 2012 has turned out to be. As is typical in drought years, the apples are smaller in size this year but the quantity of apples in the orchard remains relatively consistent with recent harvests.

U-Pick and Pre-Picked Apples

From now through late October, 14 varieties of traditional apples will be available here. Many people enjoy the “u-pick” orchards, where one can wander through the apple trees and hand-pick for themselves any combination of varieties in five- or ten-pound bags, or half- or full-bushel. Improved orchard signage at Arbor Day Farm will help people find just the apples they’re looking for. Free hayrack rides to the orchard are available for the fall season on Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5pm.

For those who love apples but don’t necessarily wish to pick their own, the Apple House Market is a one-stop shop for pre-picked apples. A team of orchard workers picks apples daily in the orchard, bringing their harvest into the market for purchase. Five- and ten-pound bags, half- and full-bushel quantities are ready to go for your convenience.

The Preservation Orchard

It’s impossible to discuss apples and apple traditions without noting the Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm.

This collection of heirloom-variety apple trees was originally planted in the late 1980s and today consists of 90 rare, antique apple varieties, some dating back to the 1500s and originating in Rome, France, Ireland, Turkey and beyond.

Many varieties of preservation apples are not necessarily “pretty” – many have russeting (discoloration of the skin), odd shapes, or irregular sizes. But just as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, one also shouldn’t judge a vintage apple by its outward appearance. Certain varieties of these heirloom apples have exceptional flavor and are prized for baking.

For the 2012 apple harvest season, visitors to Arbor Day Farm will have the opportunity to purchase these heirloom apples in five-pound bags at the Apple House Market. Quantities are limited and selection will vary as different varieties are ready for harvest.

We look forward to sharing the apple tradition with you this fall at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City.

Amy Stouffer lends a hand for all-things-communication at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE. Her favorite tree is the ginkgo. This piece was cross-posted on the Lied Lodge & Arbor Day Farm Blog.