words by: Shawn + Beth Dougherty
A Plentiful Harvest
The new apple trees in the orchard are bearing well this year, with russet and yellow-green fruit studding the young branches. In the convent orchard, some of the older trees are taking a sabbatical year. They will only produce a tiny crop, but enough mature trees will bear that there will be plenty of apples for the farm.
There’s a logic to sorting apples, and no matter the size or quality of the fruit, nothing need go to waste. Windfall apples, the ones that come down naturally, are first to find a home; often wormy or frost-scarred, they are the natural prerogative of roaming chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Pens of young laying hens will be run under the trees, while older birds who have the liberty of the farm make regular patrols looking for recently fallen fruits. The wild turkeys who make frequent visits will glean anything the chickens missed.
Children take their share of the better apples. They pull down a promising-looking pippin on their way to pasture or barn; in leisure time, they climb high in a barnyard tree to a favorite perch and eat all the apples within reach. The barnyard tree has smaller fruit, but the children insist it has the best flavor! Older people, too, secure an apple on their way to the afternoon milking, taking large bites down to a generous core, this last finally to be shared with a favorite milk cow.
Then there is the real harvest, which is going on right now: ripe, fallen fruit going in one set of buckets, picked fruit in another. Once collected, the apples will be sorted again. The largest and most blemish-free will be peeled and sliced for drying, canning, or freezing. Smaller apples, misshapen by sucking insects but not worm-ridden, will be roughly quartered and cooked long and slowly in the largest kettle for applesauce—a must with roast pork—or apple butter to go with our breakfast toast and biscuits. Even the wormy fruit, most damaged of all, is still valued. Crushed and pressed, it will yield gallons of cider; and when the cider has lost its sweetness, it will make vinegar for the coming year.
Nothing is wasted. Peels, seeds, cores, pomace—all the detritus from apple harvest—have a final stop in the pig pen. Three or four young pigs and the last of the big lard hogs take every calorie gratefully, if not politely, and transform it into bacon, ham, and pork chops—and rich, black compost.
Apples, when we stop to think about it, are kind of like people: of many different sizes and conditions, all are to be valued, all have a role to play, and none are dispensable.
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Shawn and Beth Dougherty live in eastern Ohio, where their home farm is 17 acres designated by the state as ‘not suitable for agriculture’. Using grass as the primary source of energy, they raise dairy and beef cows, sheep, farm-fed hogs, and a variety of poultry, producing most of their food, and feed, on the farm. Concerned that farming is too often dependent upon multiple off-farm resources, from feed, fuel, and fertilizer to water and electricity, their ongoing project is to discover and test the time-honored means by which farming may be done with a minimum of off-farm inputs. Their research has led them to identify the daily conversion of grass into milk by dairy ruminants as a key to whole-farm sustainability. They are the authors of The Independent Farmstead, Chelsea Green Press 2016.