It’ll Be Cold Tonight! But Cold Enough to Pick Apples?

Apples on a tree at night, before a cold frost


As fall flirts with winter, we folks who get our food from the land keep an eye on the thermometer. My apple trees are loaded with fruit. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says it will be 28 degrees tonight. The more commercial bureaus, which I don’t find particularly accurate, tell me it will be 27. What’s the difference? What’s just one little degree?

A lot! Apples can stand two or three hours down to 28. Drop the temp one more degree, however, and the fruit will freeze and spoil from the inside out. I’m worried. They could really use another week on the tree. 

I play piano, read some poetry ,and, as twilight turns to night, keep my eye on the thermometer.

About nine o’clock I make the call. The temp is in the mid-30 and dropping. I put on a coat, grab a hat and a small flashlight, rustle up a bunch of baskets and 5-gallon buckets, and head outside.

My orchard is filled with dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, so I don’t need a ladder. I’m also lucky because the antique varieties I’ve planted tend to bear every other year, so I only need to pick about 60 percent of my 50 trees.

I start with the Arkansas Black, dark cannon balls that need time in storage to sweeten. Next come the Old Non-Pareil, one little tree that yields four gallons of fruit, then the Wickson Crab, impudent and juicy that makes a great cider.

I check my watch. It’s after 10, and I’m not half way done yet.

The Ashmead’s Kernels are next, little spicy nuggets one pomologist described as not for sissies, then Prairie Spy, the Golden Russet, and the White Winter Pearmain, a cream-colored apple with rose blushes that tastes like eating rose petals.

It’s 11 o’clock, and I have only the Black Oxford left, an apple sweet yet earthy, like eating an archeological dig sprinkled with sugar. It’s speckled with tiny dots that look like stars, and, as I lift one from the tree, I have a revelation. I’ve been so consumed by time, by the imperative of getting the job done, that I’ve forgotten to look up.

I pause and gaze to the heavens. Orion stands tall, his shield extended in defense and club held high and ready to strike. Taurus’s horns point at the hunter, and the story I’ve heard is they’re locked in battle.

Recently, I’ve done some reading and learned there is scant mythological support for this tale. The hunter and the bull just happen to be next to each other in the sky. It’s like the world right now, where conflict and battles seem to be made up, as if doing so will make life turn a little better.

Perhaps we all need to learn to let sleeping bulls lie and to lower our club before we strike and regret it later.

A fox barks up the hill. A great horned owl hoots in the distance, answered by another in a tree nearby. By the time I pick the last, it’s midnight. Before heading inside, I linger and look up once more into the crystalline evening and say a brief prayer of thanks for the harvest but also for the tiny points of celestial light and the reminder to stop at times and really see this incredible world we live in.

Oh and, by the way, the temperature only dropped to 30 that morning. I was bummed. But the next night it plummeted to 25!

Now it’s time to press and make pies. MSN

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