New Life for Old Apples

Restoring a damaged heritage apple orchard
By Kathleen Hatt

In this cluster of Arkansas Black apples are 24 3-inch or larger fruit.

With bark ripped from the trees and goat dung everywhere, the Westmoreland, N.H., property had little to recommend it. On the market for several years, the land and buildings stood dejected and rejected. The one redeeming feature was the view toward Gilboa Mountain, and it was that view that told Angela Hauri she had found her new home, Old Ciderpress Farm.

Pruned and propped, this apple tree is recovering from goat damage.
The building Marius designed around the 11-foot-high 1870 rack and cloth oak beam press.
Nine of the more than 60 varieties of apples at Old Ciderpress Farm in Westmoreland, N.H.

From 1983 to 1997, what was then known as Stony Springs was the orchard and tree plantation of Professor Harkavy of Keene State College. Harkavy planted heritage apples and several kinds of stone fruits, berries and nut trees on the 22-acre hillside farm. From 1997 to 2002, the property was owned by people who kept free-ranging goats. Deer also frequented the area. The animals chewed everything, but appear to have developed a special affinity for the 300 original apple trees.

Reviving an orchard

The move to New Hampshire was swift. Raised on a vegetable farm in Connecticut, Angela thought she might someday farm the land her now 84-year-old parents are still happily tending. Her husband, Marius, a mechanical engineer reared in Switzerland, knew little about raising crops or tending trees.

Among the many tasks of what was to become three years of cleanup was fencing. Soon after the Hauris moved in on October 15, 2002, Dave Kennard of Wellscroft Fence Systems persuaded a contractor to enclose 10 acres in 8-foot-high anti-deer fencing. The fence has finer spacing near the bottom, which also keeps out smaller animals. Once the fence was installed and the trees were safe from deer, orchard restoration could begin.

The approach to salvaging what was left of the severely goat-damaged heritage apple trees was a two-step process involving one year of drastic cutting back and a second year of less severe pruning. To date, 58 varieties of trees present in the orchard when they purchased it have survived, and the Hauris have added 10 more varieties, most of the type planted by Harkavy, and all of the longer-lasting semidwarf trees (trees with 7-inch-diameter trunks) rather than dwarf trees (5-inch-diameter trunks). In 2008, the orchard had 170 bearing apple trees, which will soon increase to 238. Finding replacement stock has been a challenge, especially for some of the rarest varieties, such as the Opalescent, an all-purpose apple that glows on the trees even before it is picked in early October.

Marius and Angela Hauri, Old Ciderpress Farm, Westmoreland, N.H.
To keep the orchard neat and to control disease, pickers are asked to deposit apple cores in boxes located at row ends. Every night, Angela and Marius also pick up any apples that drop from the trees and remove them from the orchard.

The pros and cons of heritage apples

Around 1900, there may have been as many as 8,000 varieties of apples in North America. As advances in cold storage and transportation made it possible to ship larger, perfectly shaped apples to market, small, irregularly shaped apples grown for baking, storing, vinegar, hard cider and preserves became less popular. Since older varieties are less reliable and do not bear as heavily (3 to 4 bushels of apples per tree, about 40 pounds per year), commercial apple growers do not tend to grow them, thereby making a market for small specialty orchards such as Old Ciderpress Farm.

Among other advantages of heritage apples and of growing different kinds of those apples, says Marius, is genetic diversity. Genetic diversity and cultural practices, such as daily pickup of fallen apples, promotes resistance to disease, and end-of-season leaf raking eliminates material where pests can overwinter. Also contributing to healthy trees and fruit, Marius believes, was Harkavy’s practice of mixing different types of apples throughout the orchard rather than planting them in same-type blocks.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is practiced at Old Ciderpress Farm, and grass surrounding orchard trees is mowed rather than treated with herbicides. Mowed grass is also helpful in collecting and retaining moisture under the trees. A vegetable-based dormant oil may be used, primarily to control fly speck and sooty blotch, but no spray is applied to any of the trees after a month prior to the ripening date of the first apples.

A tendency to be biennial and thus economically less viable than modern heavy bearers is one of the disadvantages of many older varieties, such as Golden Russet and Wolf River. In addition, some early apples such as Bob’s Blush, Quinte and Early Delicious begin ripening as early as July, when no one is thinking about apples. Thin-skinned, early apples also do not store well.

The old cider press’ human engine, Marius.
Angela Hauri layers pomace into twill cloth placed over a wooden frame.
Fruit of Old Ciderpress Farm’s fields, trees and Angela’s kitchen.

The old cider press

Until 2007, Marius and Angie used an ancient hand-crank bushel press to make around 300 gallons of cider a season. With each pressing, the machine made only about 1.5 gallons. New in 2008 was a restored 11-foot-tall, oak beam press that weighs over a ton. The 1870 rack and cloth beam press once stood in the barn of the former Aldrich Farm in Westmoreland, and was given to the Hauris by Aldrich descendants Rosalie and Ken Walker.

Restoring the old beam press involved Marius’ engineering skill and the work of many friends and neighbors. After modeling the press pieces using a computer-aided design program, Marius planned and constructed the missing and worn parts. Then, he designed and built a structure around the restored, nonmotorized machine.

Because the finished heritage apple cider is not pasteurized, Marius and Angela are scrupulous about doing everything possible to avoid E. coli contamination. They cut all bruises and blemishes from every apple. The apples are then washed in sanitizing solution and rinsed clean before they are fed into a small motorized grinder and reduced to a very fine pulp known as pomace. The pomace is carried to the cider press, where a layer is spread over twill cloth laid over a wooden 30-by-30-inch frame. The twill cloth is folded over the pomace, and another sheet of twill is placed on top of the first. The process is repeated until the layers fill the frame. Using first a large wheel and then an 8-foot-long overhead lever, Marius forces the human-powered press down onto the layers. As the pomace is pressed, juice runs through a tube into a collecting tank. The process of turning 9 bushels of apples into 25 gallons of cider is repeated every Saturday morning during harvest season. In 2009, their first full year with the refurbished old press, the Hauris anticipated 400 gallons of cider.

Other crops

A simple “Cider” sign first drew visitors to Old Ciderpress Farm. Although apples and cider continue to be the major summer and fall draw, pumpkins and chestnuts are also popular. After Thanksgiving, the farm features cut-your-own Christmas trees. Of the farm’s 2,000 trees, 250 to 350 a year are harvested, including the one cut and decorated as a gift to the town of Westmoreland. When they can find a particular variety of nut, they hope to add an unusual Swiss pastry to Angela’s already locally famous turnovers and pies.

The Hauris delight in sharing their farm and readily acknowledge creating new life for old apples would not have been possible without the help and support of the community. They give special thanks to Jeff Smith, a neighbor who always seems to show up to help at just the right time.

Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Farming. She resides in Henniker, N.H. Comment or question? Visit www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.