These are some of the questions we are most often asked. If your question isn't answered here, feel free to ask us!
That depends. What flavors do you like? Do you like tart apples or sweet? Even in a variety that suits your taste there will be good, great, and mediocre eating experiences. You may find that you like a certain apple for eating and a certain apple for cooking or pies. Sometimes, that may even be the same variety! The only answer to the 'best apple/Asian pear' question is to keep trying different varieties in different ways. Of course, we can steer you in the right direction, if you have some idea of what you like, just ask us when you see us.
We often say that the best apple or Asian pear is the one that we are eating! Here at the farm, it seems it doesn't matter which kind it is…any variety we are picking at the time is the best! Nothing beats fruit fresh and warm from the tree! But still, we do have our preferences……
Ike: "The best apple I can remember eating in my life was an overripe Jonathan still hanging on the tree two weeks after normal harvest, on a farm I worked on right after college. Normally, I don't much care for Jonathan. Of the apples we currently grow, I consider Gold Rush to be the single best variety…but I enjoy most all our varieties in their season."
Lisa: "In early October, my favorite by far is the Golden Russet. Now there's an apple that can divide people! Some people, like me, go nuts for it. I can't wait for them to ripen, and I nibble every one I eat down to the core. But other people, (including Ike), don't see the big appeal. Golden Russet has a decidedly different flesh quality than other varieties, as well as a complex, slightly sweet flavor. But, later on the Gold Rush come in, and I just love them! It's nice that they keep so well over winter in the fridge, because I'll eat one or two a day for several months. They may just be the best apples on the planet!"
For more information about specific varieties, please go to the Products page.
"Ripe" is a moving target!
Apples, European pears, peaches, and plums continue to ripen and sweeten after harvest, which allows the farmer to pick them slightly under-ripe. The consumer can then 'ripen' the fruit at home to their preference.
Asian pears, raspberries, cherries, and grapes will continue to ripen after harvest, but they will not get any sweeter after harvest. They are best to be picked as close to optimal ripeness as possible.
Many commercial orchards pick their fruit too 'green' (under-ripe), and although some fruit will continue to ripen after harvest, it usually will not be able to acquire the preferred sweetness or texture. At North Star Orchard, we strive to pick our fruit at the optimal time; allowing the consumer to keep the fruit in excellent quality for several days to a week (less for berries and peaches) or more, with proper care. For specific info about storage and use of various crops, please visit the Products page.
We have planted mostly disease-resistant varieties in our quest to reduce pesticide usage. Many of these are still being tested by the universities that breed them, and only have a test number for identification. How would you like to try to remember which one you liked better, NY75414-1 or NY74840-1? Hence, we create our own names for them, which we use until (and if) they are given names by the breeder. (The two numbers previously mentioned are what we call Stars and Sugar Snap, respectively.)
We have also planted uncommon and rare old varieties for their excellent flavors and disease tolerance; wonderful apples like Reinette Simerenko, Adam's Pearmain, and Golden Russet. With literally hundreds of wonderfully diverse varieties available, we prefer to grow fruit other than those commonly grown commercially.
We have trial plantings of all the different crops we grow. For instance, we have dozens of apple and plum varieties in our trial block now. Over the past dozen years, we have tested many varieties of fruit; some we have kept and others we have discarded. When we have small quantities of new varieties available, they show up at our markets or in the CSA shares, and we gauge your reaction to them. Then we decide whether or not to expand the planting based both on your preferences and the production strengths or weaknesses of the varieties.
Also known as apple pears, nashi, and oriental pears, Asian pears are closely related to European pears (the 'regular' pears). They are not a cross of apples and pears, as many people think. Asian pears are typically round like an apple, although there are a few varieties that have the typical 'pear' shape. They are usually very sweet and crisp.
Asian pears are not as easy to grow as pears or apples, but we strive to grow wonderful pears by giving our trees lots of attention! Training, fruit thinning, and harvest are all very labor intensive jobs, but the end result is well worth it!
These are actually two separate questions.
Do we spray? Yes- and so do nearly all fruit and vegetable growers, whether they are certified organic or not. There is a common misconception that organic growers do not spray at all. In reality, growers following organic guidelines spray approved products to protect their fruit and vegetables, just as conventional growers do. The difference is in what product is applied to the crops.
Are we organic? No, we are not certified organic. Our vegetable crops are produced following certified organic requirements. However, we find that the record-keeping and yearly fees required for organic certification are not worth the time, effort, and expense. We'd rather spend our time and money growing good food. We use crop rotation, compost, floating row covers, hand weeding, and all of the traditional organic methods to grow our veggies.
Our fruit is grown using a combination of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and organic methods. In our climate on the East Coast, we have growing conditions (in particular, high humidity and wet weather) that make it impossible to grow truly high quality fruit consistently using only organic methods.
We like to call what we are doing to protect our fruit crops "Certified Sensible". We select what we consider to be the most sensible approach to crop protection to protect ourselves, our customers, and the environment. In some cases that means using approaches that are traditionally considered organic methods (trapping insects, planting disease-resistant varieties, encouraging insect-eating birds by providing more than 90 appropriately-sized birdhouses, and using organically- approved spray products), and sometimes that means using Integrated Pest Management methods (monitoring pest populations and using synthetic chemicals if needed).
Most organic fruit you find in stores is either of inferior quality, is shipped in from other countries which have different (or no) organic standards, or is shipped in from the West Coast of the US. Growers there do not have the same types of problems or growing conditions as we do here. However, many fruit and vegetable crops from the West are grown in fragile desert environments and usually require that huge quantities of irrigation water be shipped in, diverting it from other areas. Additionally, the use of fossil fuels to then ship such produce to the East is extensive. We do not consider those practices very sustainable or kind to the environment.
In making our decisions in fruit crop protection methods, we take into consideration both environmental and safety concerns. Every year there are new and better products that can be used (both organically approved and conventional), and we constantly re-evaluate and update our methods. Due to these decisions, and our concern about safety and the environment, we have an orchard that produces relatively undamaged fruit. Plus, the farm is abundant with insect, mammalian and avian life, all of which we like to see! (and we've got plenty of naturally-occurring grass and weeds, too)