Category: Orchard

Home / Category: Orchard

How to Make and Can Applesauce

September 24, 2023 | Canning, Orchard | No Comments

Jars of pink applesauce, ready to go in the pantry, with a few small red apples for decoration.

My little Honeycrisp apple tree outdid itself this year, producing so many apples its branches were drooping from the weight. The early heat and warm fall meant that all of my apples ripened early, by a couple of weeks or more! Normally, I would pick the apples and put them in the root cellar to eat or deal with later, but this year it hasn’t been an option, since it has been unseasonably warm – my root cellar is not cold at all! So I had to find other ways to deal with all those apples.

We picked three very (!) heaping grocery baskets of nice apples, plus a bunch of pecked, hail-damaged, and windfallen apples that went to the chickens. We were able to give away part of one basket to neighbors and friends, and I put most of another basket into gallon ziploc bags (8 of them!) in the fridge to eat later. That left me about one level basket plus two thirds of another to ‘do something’ with.

A pile of small red apples for applesauce

We use a fair bit of applesauce, here. Mostly on porridge (my favorite winter breakfast!), but also as a side for pork, and to just eat with a spoon. Because they’d had plenty of late-summer warmth to ripen with, the apples were fairly sweet this year. With my freezer being too full to fit much more in, canned applesauce seemed like the best option.

We haven’t canned applesauce in several years, here. It’s a bit of a fiddly process, and I seemed to remember it sucking up entire weekends. But Friday night after work, I cut up enough apples to fill my big stock pot, boiled them to mush, ran them through my sauce-making device, and canned them up. I timed myself, and it was three hours, start to finish, and I ended up with 7 pints – exactly a canner load – which was perfect. It was also a lot faster than I remembered, and I’m not sure why, but it was certainly encouraging!

Yesterday, I tackled the rest of the apples. I only have one big stock pot suitable for this project, but I have several large roasting pans, so I decided to cook the apples down in the oven, rather than on the stove top. Interestingly, my one roaster has a tighter-fitting lid than the other, and those apples cooked waaaayyy faster than the ones in the roaster with the loose lid.

If you have large apples, you can peel and core them, which makes saucing them easier at the end, especially if you have an immersion blender – just whiz them up and you’re done! I didn’t thin my Honeycrisps, though, and the apples are small, so I just quartered them without peeling, and threw them in the roasters, cores and all. Leaving the peels on red apples gives you a pretty pink applesauce, which my daughter thinks is absolutely fantastic, since pink is her favorite color!

The process is really quite basic. First, I wash the apples, then cut off any blemishes and quarter them.

A photo of a blemish being cut off a red apple with a knife.

I threw them into the roasters with just a bit of water on the bottom to keep them from sticking. I baked them, covered, in the oven at 350 F until they were very soft. The first pan, with the tighter fitting lid, took around 45 minutes. The second pan I left in for about an hour and 15 minutes.

Small apples, cut into quarters, in a roasting pan, ready to be made into sauce.

A roasting pan of cooked quartered apples, ready to be made into sauce.

I have this handy device that I use to make apple and tomato sauce. It’s called a chinois or China cap, but I don’t think I’ve every heard anyone actually use either word. It’s a metal cone, with a wooden masher that you use to press cooked apples (or tomatoes) through the holes, which makes a nice, smooth sauce. I got mine at a garage sale ages ago, but I’m sure you can still buy them new. If you plan to make a lot of sauce, it’s a great time-saver. If you don’t have a food mill or chinois, you can push the sauce through a mesh strainer with a wooden spoon, though that is a much fiddlier process.

A chinois, or Chinese Cap, a tool for saucing apples or tomatoes.

Taste the sauce, and if it’s too tart, you can add some sugar. You can also add spices, like cinnamon or apple pie spice, but be conservative with it – many spices get stronger over time, and can become overwhelming. In my own case, I’ll add the spices when I use the sauce – I find it more versatile this way, and adding spices takes no time at all. Once you’re happy with the flavor, ladle the sauce into jars, wipe the jar rims with a damp cloth, put on a lid, and tighten it gently.

The National Centre for Home Food Preservation is a reliable site that gives safe canning information. They indicate that applesauce should be processed for 20 minutes in a water bath for my elevation. That’s exactly what I did. If you don’t have a designated canning pot, you can put a tea towel on the bottom of a stock pot to set your jars on, but make sure the pot is deep enough to allow at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water over your jars of sauce.

…and voila! Pretty pink applesauce, ready for the pantry. We’ve already done a taste-test using some of the sweetened applesauce on pumpkin pancakes, and that was a real treat! Unfortunately, those disappeared way too fast for me to get a picture…

Jars of pink applesauce, ready to go in the pantry, with a few small red apples for decoration.

By Jess

How To Tell If Your Apples Are Ripe

September 4, 2023 | Orchard | 1 Comment

A close-up of ripe red apples on a branch.

We have a number of apple trees here are our acreage, and several of them are producing apples each year. Unfortunately, we don’t know what all of the varieties are, and even if we did, the hot weather is messing with our apples’ usual ripening times. Given that different apple varieties can ripen anywhere from late July right into November (in climates that allow it), it can be a real challenge to figure out when to harvest your tree. While apples will ripen a bit once they are picked, it is much better to wait until they are ripe or just about ripe, in order to get the best flavor. So how do you know when your apples are ripe?

Our first clue is when the apples start to turn color. On one tree, the apples go from greenish to yellowish, with red flecks or stripes over top. On another, the apples turn mostly a lovely, dark red, with greenish skin where the sun didn’t hit them. That’s a useful clue if your trees have been producing for a while, but it’s not so helpful if this is the first or second year that tree has borne apples, as you may not know what color they are supposed to be. Having said that, most apples will at least go from ‘green-green’ to a more faded, yellowish base color, even if they don’t ripen completely red (or red at all).

Several ripe red apples hanging on branch.

Another hint is if the apples start to fall off the tree of their own accord, in a light wind, or if you brush them passing by. Sometimes, though, this means you’re too late, and the apples will have become mealy. It really depends on your tree, and experience will be the best guide, with that. We have one tree where the apples are really mealy by the time they are dropping off the tree, while another starts dropping apples before most of them are even really ripe. So again, this is a more useful clue if the tree has been bearing for a few years, and if you have been paying attention.

Several ripe apples that have fallen into the grass at the base of the apple tree.

I often check for ripeness by giving a couple of apples a gentle tug, or a bit of a lift (toward the branch) and twist. Ripe apples tend to be quite easy to pick, and if you lift/tug with the same force each time, one day the apples will come off nicely, and at that point, they are probably ripe. Of course, there’s an exception that proves every rule, and I have a crabapple where the apples are never, ever easy to pick – they hang on the tree halfway through the winter – so this trick won’t work for every tree. It’s useful a lot of the time, though.

The two most accurate ways to tell if your apples are ripe are to cut them and look at the seeds, and to actually taste them. Tasting them will let you know for sure if they are ripe, but unripe apples can be quite an unpleasant surprise, especially if they’ve turned color and look like they should be sweet. Cutting the apple open, on the other hand, will tell you if it is ripe, and if it is, you can taste it without fear. A ripe apple will have very dark brown seeds (the inside of the seeds will still be white if you cut them in half, though), while an unripe apple will have white or light tan seed coats. You can see in the picture below that the apple on the right has dark seeds, indicating ripeness, while the one on the left has lighter tan and white seeds, and is not quite ripe.

Two apples, cut open to show the color of the pips, to help determine ripeness.

We’re right in the middle of our apple harvest, here, as most of our trees are earlier apples, given our short season and early frosts. Hopefully, yours are ripe, soon, too!

By Jess

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

August 26, 2023 | Orchard | 2 Comments

Hands holding a bowl full of small red and yellow apples

“I’ll only have a few chips”

“I’ll get school supplies early this year”

“I’ll thin those apples later this week”

“I’ll totally remember what variety of apple this is”

A close up of a hand holding a small red and yellow apple

So I have this apple tree. We call it the FrankenApple now, because after seven years of nothing at all, followed by three years of it flowering but not setting fruit, I decided it wasn’t a good apple for our location, and used it to experiment with grafting techniques. I grafted over somewhere between a third and half of the branches, all with different things. Of course, this year, the original tree decided to make apples.

The apples themselves are really quite nice. They are fairly large, and juicy, and reasonably sweet, for a Prairie apple. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what kind they are, because I was * certain * that I would be able to remember what I planted, and where. I’m pretty sure it’s on Bud 118 rootstock, because the tree is maybe 12 feet tall, at 13 (or so) years of age. Could be Bud 9, though. It’s not like I’ve ever pruned it heavily.

I have this other apple tree. We call it “The Mac”. It is absolutely not a Macintosh apple – those are not hardy here, and I am certain I have never ordered or planted one. But one of our kids took it to school for an apple tasting day, and when the teacher asked what kind of apple it was, the kid said, honestly, ‘We don’t know’. The teacher (without asking any further questions or trying to clarify) assumed the kid forgot, and confidently labeled it a Macintosh. Kiddo was quite offended that the teacher did not believe them. It’s a running joke now.

An image of several red apples, hanging on a branch.

And then there’s the “Honeycrisp”. I put that in quotations, because I’m not actually sure it’s a Honeycrisp at all. That one is not my fault, though. It came to me labeled as a Honeycrisp, and I actually wrote that one down – yay me! But the tree itself doesn’t act like a Honeycrisp. They are not actually supposed to be quite hardy here, but this tree has survived to the tips, even in very cold winters, on my acreage. The apples are not very sweet, even if we have a late fall and we harvest at the end of September. And even when I thin them, the apples are not very big, though they do seem to keep fairly well. We call the tree “The Honeycrisp” anyhow, because I don’t really know what else to call it. It’s great for making applesauce, at least, especially since the apples aren’t ripe until after the weather is nice and cool, and I’m okay with spending the day heating up the house with canning.

A photo of red and yellow apples on a leafy branch

Those trees were all planted between 10 and 13 years ago. I’m wiser now. I try to keep the tree tags, because it’s nice to know both the rootstock and the scion name. I draw maps of what I planted where, and sometimes even update them when we dig out a dead tree and plant something else in its spot. Knowing what kind of tree you have tells you when to start thinking about harvest, what the best uses for the fruit are (canning? pies? cider? long keeping?), and what diseases to watch out for.

I really recommend making yourself a map, even if you tag the trees in some way. I’ve tried to label trees (and grafts) in a variety of ways, from leaving the original plastic tags (loosely) on, to labeled stakes, to adding tags of my own, held on by wire. But between kids, dogs, and weather, almost all of my markers have gone missing eventually. Maybe I have especially bad luck. But anyways, draw a map.

I fully expect that a hundred years from now, some nursery will be selling an apple labeled “Jessie’s Franken” or some such. It’s quite a nice hardy apple. Too bad I can’t recommend it to anyone else!

Hands holding a bowl full of small red and yellow apples

By Jess
An image of an antique Enterprise brand hand-crank cherry stoner / pitter

I love my sour cherry trees, and am happy to eat some of the cherries out of hand, but I like to preserve most of them for later use. Pitting sour cherries is a nuisance, though. I’ve purchased a number of cherry pitters over the years, but they seem to be designed for the much larger sweet cherries, and are ineffective and slow. My cherry ‘trees’ are all dwarf sour cherries from the University of Saskatchewan introductions, and both the cherries and the pits are considerably smaller than something like a Bing or Ranier.

With homestead-level volumes of cherries to deal with, a pitter that does one or four cherries at a time isn’t terribly helpful, even if they do manage to pit sour cherries effectively. So I’ve mostly preserved my sour cherry harvests by steam juicing them and making them into jelly, or by fermenting them into wine. While these are fine ways to preserve them, I wanted to be able to make pies, maybe a few jars of jam, and to freeze some cherries for smoothies.

A handful of ripe, dark red dwarf sour cherries, illustrating their size.

This spring, I ordered an antique hand-crank cherry pitter. The particular one I bought was an Enterprise No. 16 Cherry Stoner, but there were several similar ones. Home scale modern pitters all seem to use a plunger to push the pit out through the side of the cherry; these vintage crank pitters use a plate to push the cherry flesh through an opening that is smaller than the cherry pit. The theory looked sound, at least. I found a video of someone from Washington using a crank pitter, and again, it was very encouraging. I wasn’t sure it would work with my non-irrigated, prairie-grown dwarf sour cherries, though.

It’s been a very dry year, here, with plenty of heat, but very little rain. My cherries were ready a bit earlier than usual, and were on the small side. The harvest was also very small; my one mature tree only yielded four pounds, a little under a gallon of fruit. I harvested this week, and decided to try pitting my sour cherries using my new-to-me cherry stoner.

An image showing the set-up of the Enterprise No 16 Stoner, with cherries in the hopper, some pitted cherries in a dish, and another dish catching the pits.

This thing is game-changing, folks! In under an hour, I had the stoner set up, pitted a gallon of cherries, packaged the fruit up for the freezer, and cleaned up the kitchen. Most of that time was set-up and clean-up; the actual pitting only took a few minutes. I was amazed!

I did notice that the stoner jammed from time to time, but backing the crank up a bit, or just fiddling for a moment was enough to set it right. With a hand crank and no blades or sharp parts, I wasn’t worried about sticking a finger down the chute to move a stuck cherry or pit. It also didn’t always feed very effectively, but again, a quick poke with a finger, and things got moving again very easily. For a piece of equipment that was over 100 years old, I was pretty impressed.

A fair number of the smallest cherries went right through, and did not get pitted at all, leading to a certain amount of waste, and there were also a fair number of pits in the pile of pitted cherries. I suspect at least some of this is because the drought-affected cherries (and their pits) are just so small this year. I figure it was about 5 to 10 percent of cherries that did not get effectively pitted. Having said that, it was easy to go through the pitted cherries and remove the ones that were missed, as the pits were exposed and easy to get at. Even with me going through the pile of pitted cherries twice to look for missed pits, the process was very quick. I couldn’t have run a full batch through the steam juicer in that amount of time!

An image showing the results of pitting the cherries, illustrating the small but significant amount of waste - several small whole cherries, as well as some flesh, ended up in the pile of pits.
There’s some waste – a few of the smallest cherries went right through and ended up with the pits.

The only real downside to this pitter, besides the bit of waste in the pit pile, is that the cherries are pretty thoroughly mashed by the time they make it through the machine. To be honest, for my own uses, this is not an issue at all – nobody here cares what the cherries in their pie or jam look like. If you want pretty cherries for decorative uses, though, this won’t be a good solution for you.

A handful of pitted dwarf sour cherries after being run through the Enterprise No 16 Stoner.  The cherries are pretty mashed.
The pitted cherries are pretty mashed

For anyone else who has a few (or more than a few) sour cherry bushes, and wants to can larger volumes of pitted cherries or cherry jam, I really encourage you to find yourself one of these slick little tools. The drawbacks of a bit of waste and some fairly mashed up cherries are easily outweighed by the sheer speed of processing, even counting the time I spent going through the pitted cherries to check for missed pits. I can’t wait for a big harvest of sour cherries, now, and I’ll be canning up a ton of pie filling!

By Jess
21 Hardy Pear Trees for Canadian Zones 2 & 3

I was so excited when I first discovered that there are hardy pear trees for zone 3! Pears are one of my favorite fruits, so I immediately went out and ordered a couple. Unfortunately, pears tend to take a long time to bear, and, on top of that, tend to grow in an overly vertical, bushy form that discourages early fruiting, as well. In addition, I’ve been told that pear pollen is not favored by various pollenators, so even if you have a couple of mature trees, you may or may not get much fruit, depending on how much the bees were enticed to come to the tree.

Two green pears on a branch
Image by analogicus from Pixabay

We have run into each of these issues. We planted our first pears in 2011, and tended them carefully, but didn’t know that we needed to do anything special to change the branch angle (you can buy little braces to improve the angle while the tree is small, but I don’t know if there is much you can do once the branches are thick). They both flowered for several years, with no fruit, which was disappointing, and had us wondering what we had done wrong.

In 2019, we tasted our very first home-grown pear. We didn’t even realize that the tree had any fruit on it until quite late in the fall, and we didn’t pick the fruit green to ripen off the tree, which is what you are supposed to do – in many varieties, pears left to ripen on the tree develop a mealy texture, and can rot from the inside. The pears came from our Golden Spice tree, and there were only three of them. The Golden Spice pears, while extremely hardy, are reported to be inferior fruit; I have to say, however, that those three pears were delicious and sweet, although not the most pleasing texture.

In 2022 (ELEVEN YEARS after we planted it!), we got a few pears from our other mature tree – a Ure, which is another ultra-hardy tree, but the fruit is described as being less-than-stellar. We picked them green, and left them in a fruit dish on the table to ripen, which turned out to be a mistake, as one of our dogs decided to sample them before we got a chance, so we still don’t know what they taste like!

Pears are not typically self-pollenating, so plan to get two, unless you have a nearby neighbor who is growing one. Also, if you are in a cold zone, you will need to pay particular attention to the rootstocks that are used, as many are not that hardy, and won’t survive a zone 2 or 3 winter. In particular, watch out for OhxF rootstocks, which are only supposed to be zone 4 hardy, and Quince A, which simply won’t take our winters at all. You will want to look for standard Pyrus Communis, or, in the really cold zones, Siberian pear rootstock.

Here is an article about growing pears on the Canadian prairies.

The Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta group on Facebook is a great resource for growing fruit in difficult conditions, and there is often information there about new tree varieties, including pears.

If you’re considering planting apple trees, as well, I also have a list of hardy apple trees for zones 2 & 3.

Over the last few years, a number of ultra-hardy Russian-bred selections have become available in Canada, which is very exciting. I have not yet tasted any of these pears, myself, but the early reports are very positive, with some of them described as being as sweet and juicy as the Bartlett pears you can get at the grocery store.

I am now on a mission to get a lot more pears, even though I know we’ll be waiting another decade or so to see fruit. Here is a list of zone 2 and 3 hardy pear trees I have found, with a resource list of where to order them (links to the individual nurseries are at the bottom of the page):

An image of a pear hanging from the branch of a pear tree
Image by Cifer88 from Pixabay

Hardy Pear Trees for Canadian Zones 2 and 3:

Beedle (zone 2) – a Siberian seedling discovered in St. Albert, AB, Beedle pears are reported to be soft and sweet, as well as being ultra-hardy. Prairie Hardy Nursery and T&T Seeds carry these.

Bolshaya (zone 3) – One of the newer Russian selections. Bolshaya means ‘large’ in Russian, but these pears are reported to grow to about 80-90 grams, which actually is not very large at all. The flavor is reported to be sweet and a bit tart, and the pears tend to stay quite crisp. Prairie Hardy Nursery carries these.

Chizhovsky (zone 3) – This Russian pear is reported to be a heavy producer, and may fruit better than other pears in cool-summer regions. The pears are said to be sweet, aromatic, soft, and juicy. Prairie Hardy Nursery carries these.

Early Gold (zone 2) – A yellow pear that is very hardy, and good for eating or canning. Boughen Nurseries and Pepinere Ancestrale carry these.

Favoritka (zone 3) – Another Russian selection, with large pears that mature with a distinctive pink blush. Favoritka pears are reported to be excellent for both fresh eating and preserving. They ripen in mid-September, and will store for up to two months in ideal conditions. Prairie Hardy Nursery carries these.

Golden Spice (zone 2) – Golden Spice pears are noted to be good for eating or canning, as well as for making perry. They are reportedly eclipsed by newer varieities, but if you are in a marginal area, these are worth a try. Boughen Nurseries carries these, as do Silver Creek, but check their rootstock for hardiness if you are zone 3 or 2.

Julienne (zone 3) – A Bartlett-type yellow pear that is large and sweet, and ripens in mid to late Septemeber. Hardy Fruit Trees carries these.

Krasnobokaya (zone 3) – Reported to be very sweet, these Russian pears are of medium size, and ripen in mid to late September. Priaire Hardy Nursery carries these.

Krazulya (zone 3) – One of the newer Russian hardy pear trees, Krazulya means ‘beauty’. These are an early-ripening (mid-August) pear that reportedly tastes great, but does not store well. They are about half the size of a Bartlett pear, and rounder, with yellow skin that has red shoulders. Like the Ure, Krazulya is not well pollenated by European pears, and you will need a Ure, Golden Spice, Early Gold, John, or one of the Russian selections in order to get fruit. Hardy Fruit Trees, Whiffletree, T&T Seeds, Pepinere Ancestrale, and Prairie Hardy Nursery all carry these.

Larinskaya (zone 3) – Another Russian selection, these are a juicy, crisp late season (September) pear. It produces smaller fruit that are light green to yellow with darker green spots. Larinskaya pears are good for fresh eating, and will store up to 8 weeks. Hardy Fruit Trees, Pepinere Ancestrale, and Prairie Hardy Nursery carry these.

Loma (zone 3) – These European pears are supposed to be precocious, bearing as early as five years after planting. Loma pears are quite round. Hardy Fruit Trees and Pepinere Ancestrale carry these.

Marshal Zhukov (zone 3) – Another recent Russian selection, Marshal Zhukov pears are reported to be quite large compared to other ultra-hardy pears. The flavor is more of a sweet-and-sour profile. These pears ripen in late August or early September, and will store for approximately one month under suitable conditions. Prairie Hardy Nursery carries these.

Nova (zone 3/4) – A large, round, flavorful dessert pear, Nova pears are reported to be good even if left to ripen on the tree. These pears appear to be scab and fireblight resistant, and are self-fertile. Hardy Fruit Trees and Whiffletree both carry these. However, they are not hardy enough for the most northerly zones.

Patten (zone 2/3) – Patten produces a very large fruit that is reportedly excellent for eating, and passable for canning. They are resistant to fireblight, and ripen in late September, though they are best picked green and ripened off the tree. Hardy Fruit Trees and Whiffletree carry these.

Peter (zone 2) – Boughen Nurseries describes them as producing “a medium size fruit good for eating or canning.” Boughen Nurseries carries these.

Sentyabrina (zone 3) – A tender ultra-hardy pear whose flavor is described as having sweet and sour notes. This is another Russian selection, which ripens in September, and stores for around one month.

So Sweet (zone 2) – This pear is self-fertile, though it will produce a lot more fruit if planted near another pear tree. So Sweet pears are smaller in size, and round in shape. The flavor is described as sweet and juicy, and these pears ripen quite early – mid-August. Prairie Hardy Nursery carries these.

Southworth (zone 3) – Described as a vigorous tree that is said to produce reliably, Southworth pears are reported to be large and sweet, with a buttery texture. They are also self-pollenating. Hardy Fruit Trees carries these.

Summercrisp (zone 3 or 4, depending who you ask) – An earlier pear, Summercrisp are ready to harvest in mid to late August, and can be stored for two months. They are reported to be fireblight resistant. We have planted one in a protected spot, and we’ll see how it fares over a few winters. Hardy Fruit Trees, Whiffletree, and Silver Creek all carry these; however, watch the rootstock with the latter, as it may not be hardy to your area.

Ure (zone 2) – A very hardy pear tree released by the Morden research station, Ure pears are considered rather primitive by many modern Prairie pear growers, but it is definitely very hardy, and also resistant to fireblight, which can be an issue for pears. Harvest is mid-September. Boughen Nurseries describes them as having “yellow fruit that is excellent for eating.” Boughen Nurseries, Pepinere Ancestrale, and Hardy Fruit Trees carry these. Hardy Fruit Trees also noted that Ure pears may not be pollenated by European pears; if you have a Ure, look into getting a Siberian pear as a pollenator.

Vekovaya (zone 3) – Another Russian pear, the Vekovaya produces large fruit that are ready in mid to late September. The flavor is described as sweet-sour, and the flesh is crisp and juicy. They are also good keepers, and can be stored up to 3 months, under ideal conditions. Hardy Fruit Trees, Pepinere Ancestrale, and Prairie Hardy Nursery carry these.

A bunch of ripening pears hanging from a branch
Image by satynek from Pixabay

Here is a list of nurseries in Canada that carry hardy pears, with links:

Boughen Nurseries, Saskatchewan

Pepinere Ancestrale, Quebec (note, this site is in French only, and they normally only ship within Quebec; however, they have been willing to make exceptions in the past)

Prairie Hardy Nursery, Alberta

Silver Creek Nursery, Ontario

Hardy Fruit Trees, Quebec

Whiffletree Nursery, Ontario

T&T Seeds, Manitoba

By Jess
Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies - Rural Dreams

This spring, I have been working hard to put in a large-ish bee and butterfly garden, to give the pollenators a little oasis in our big sea of surrounding commercial crop fields, which are heavily sprayed. I’m sure I’m not the only one doing this – there has been a lot of media attention on pollenators, recently. However, at the same time, I am seeing a ton of posts on social media of people looking for ways to get rid of caterpillars on their plants and trees. I think people are forgetting something important: caterpillars are baby butterflies!

My pollenator garden is going to have caterpillars – that is part of the point! If you are planting milkweed, its job is to feed the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies. Let me repeat that sentence:

Milkweed’s job is to feed caterpillars.


Without caterpillars, there are no butterflies.

I get that tent caterpillars, especially, are a pain in the butt. They eat all the leaves off the trees, and infestations can be ugly. However, the leaves will grow back, and the trees aren’t even really damaged, and those caterpillars (and the moths they turn into) feed birds such as blue jays and chickadees, and all sorts of other wildlife, including frogs, squirrels, and, apparently, even bears!

tent caterpillars on a tree
Image by NoMercy from Pixabay

Caterpillars can also do quite a number on your garden. Around here, the little green caterpillars of the Small White Butterfly decimate brassica crops, including commercial canola, and any cabbage I have ever tried growing. It’s not exactly fun picking them out of your home-grown broccoli, either. Once again, though, the adult moths feed birds such as sparrows and goldfinches, which we really enjoy seeing around our acreage.

At the same time, anything you spray or dust to kill the tent caterpillars or cabbage worms, from commercial pesticides to Bacillus thuringiensis will also kill other caterpillars, including the caterpillars that turn into monarch butterflies, as well as some of my other favorites, like the Mourning Cloak and the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. Some of the commercial pesticides are also really hard on bird and amphibian populations. In the same way that roses come with thorns, butterflies come from caterpillars, and if you want to have one, you are stuck dealing with the other.

A monarch butterfly on a flower
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Honestly, for us, the ‘dealing with’ isn’t a horrible hardship anyhow. We sometimes pick caterpillars off vegetable plants and fruit trees, but we generally leave them alone when they are feeding on the native chokecherries or decorative plants. Although we’ve had no luck with covering our brassicas (thanks to kids and puppies), I know that lots of people have been very successful with that tactic, and it is not detrimental to any of the other caterpillars and butterflies that may be in and around your garden. With the pollenator gardens, we are purposely planting favored plants, and there is a good chance they will gravitate to those, instead of ending up on our vegetables. Or maybe not, but we’re still okay with that, because we love butterflies.

Now, repeat after me, one more time: Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies!

Pin It for Later:

Caterpillars Are Baby Butterflies - Rural Dreams Blog

By Jess

Black Knot Disease

April 30, 2019 | Orchard | 4 Comments

black knot disease in an infected chokecherry branch.

We have a lot of chokecherries here on our acreage, which means we have a lot of Black Knot Disease. It looks an awful lot like a big chunk of dried up dog poop wrapped around the tree branches – pretty gross! Black knot is a fungal infection (Apiosporina morbosa ) that is endemic in prairie Canada, and it is particularly common in my region.

a branch with black knot disease, which looks like dog poop wrapped around the branch

The Government of Alberta has published an article with a handy list of affected trees – black knot targets trees and bushes in the Prunus species. Besides chokecherries, the list includes Nanking cherries, apricots, sour cherries, and plums. While some cultivars of fruit trees are bred for black knot resistance, it is best to remove it any time you see it anywhere on your property.

There are not a lot of ways to deal with black knot, except for pruning. You will need to prune well back from the infected lump – at least 6 inches, though more is better. Dispose of the infected branches by burning them or removing them from the property immediately – the fungus can continue to grow and spread spores for months, even on dead branches. Once you are done, disinfect your pruning shears with a solution of 10% bleach in water, to prevent spreading the disease to other trees the next time you do any pruning.

Now is a great time to tackle pruning out black knot in your affected trees, since the affected trees and branches are much easier to see before the trees leaf out; the recommendation is to do it as early in the spring as possible, which, for us, is whenever the snow melts enough for us to be able to get to the affected trees. We have acres of scrubby chokecherry and caragana brush, so obviously we’re never going to get rid of all of it here, but I like to cut back affected trees that are close to our current orchard areas, since black knot can affect so many of the types of fruit we have planted here.

a close up photo of a black knot infection

While it may be possible to save a tree that has become infected with black knot, it hits me as a losing battle. If you have infected trees, there is obviously a source sonewhere nearby, and it is likely that your susceptible tree will get re-infected at some point. Better to save on heartache, cut down the infected tree, and plant something that isn’t susceptible.

Of course, with our place being surrounded by scrubby brush full of infested chokecherries, I expect we’ll be battling black knot disease, but we try to keep our prunus fruit trees away from the most infected areas, and we remove black knot wherever we see it in the wild chokecherries. So far, it hasn’t been a huge issue, but it certainly has the potential to become a problem for us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep it out of our plums and cherries!

a chokecherry tree branch with a black knot fungal infection

By Jess

Where to Order Fruit Trees in Canada

April 8, 2019 | Orchard | 40 Comments

A newly planted bare root fruit tree that has not leafed out yet

Living in Prairie Canada, with a short season and low zone (2 or 3, depending on the winter and which zone map you use), I have a heck of a time finding good places to order fruit trees. There aren’t all that many places that carry ultra-hardy trees to begin with, and even fewer nurseries are willing to ship trees by courier or by mail.

Over the years, I have made a list of Canadian nurseries that have a good reputation, and who will ship fruit trees. I have personally ordered from most of these companies at some point in the last 10 years, and have been happy with the service I have received. Of the ones I have not personally ordered from, most have received good reviews from fellow growers that have ordered from them before.

Here is my big list of Canadian hardy fruit tree nurseries that will ship by courier or by mail, in alphabetical order:

Boughen Nurseries

Based in Nipawin, SK, Boughen Nurseries has a good selection of ultra-hardy (zone 2) fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, and small fruit. I have ordered from them in the past, and was impressed with the size and vigour of the trees I received.

Corn Hill Nursery

Located in New Brunswick, Corn Hill Nursery specializes in roses (many of which are zone 2 hardy), but they also sell fruit trees and small fruits. While they only ship the large fruit trees by special arrangement, they will ship small fruits such as currants, haskaps, and grapes. We’ve gotten roses from Corn Hill, and they’ve done well even in extremely hard winters.

Golden Bough Tree Farm

Based out of Marlbank, ON, Golden Bough Tree Farm primarily specializes in landscaping trees such as birch and maple. However, they do have a small selection of fruit and nut trees, and they will ship bare-root trees within Canada.

Grimo Nut Nursery

Grimo Nut Nursery is based out of Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON. They specialize in nut trees, but also offer some fruit selections. Grimo’s trees are mostly suited to the warmer growing zones in Canada, though there are a couple of selections that are hardy to zone 3.

Hardy Fruit Trees

Specializing in hardy and ultra-hardy (zone 2-4) fruit trees, Hardy Fruit Trees is based in Rawdon, QC. They graft on full-sized rootstock, so if you are looking for dwarf trees, they may not have much for you. They have a good selection of trees, including some of the newer Russian pears that can be hard to find.

Haskap Central

Specializing in haskaps (duh!), Haskap Central is located in Henribourg, SK. They only sell haskaps, but they have a wide selection of cultivars to choose from, and they do not appear to have a minimum order.

Nutcracker Nursery

Based in Maskinongé, QC, Nutcracker Nursery is primarily focused on hardy nut trees (zones 3-5), but they also offer quite a broad selection of fruit trees, including some zone 2 & 3 apples, apricots, plums, and pears. They have really good descriptions of each variety. The website is not as user-friendly as some, but it is worth tolerating the endless scrolling to look through all of their varieties.

Oak Summit Nursery

I have not ordered from Oak Summit; I just discovered them recently, in February, 2024, though their website indicates they opened in 2020. They are located in Brandon, Manitoba, in zone 3, which is great for the Prairie growers, as so many of the fruit tree nurseries are located in much warmer zones in Ontario and Quebec. They have an impressive selection of hardy apple varieties.

Pépinière Ancestrale

Located in St-Julien, QC, Pépinière Ancestrale does not appear to have an English website option (the site is entirely in French), but Google Translate is your friend, here. They have a good selection of zone 2-4 fruit trees, as well as small fruits and grape vines.

Prairie Hardy Nursery

Prairie Hardy Nursery is based out of Two Hills, AB, and their shipping to AB and SK is much cheaper than shipping things in from Ontario or Quebec. They currently have a somewhat limited selection, but there are some interesting options in there, and everything is ultra-hardy, to zone 2. Prairie Hardy offers some more obscure / rare selections that are well suited to truly cold climates, and they are the only nursery I currently know of offering the ‘Arctic’ apricot series, which were bred in Saskatchewan.

Prairie Tech Propegation

Unfortunately, Prairie Tech is no longer in business.

Rhora’s Nut Farm & Nursery

Located in Wainfleet, ON, Rhora’s Nut Farm specializes in nut trees. Their trees are mostly suited for the warmer Canadian growing zones (zones 4-7), though there are a few varieties that are hardy to zone 3 or 2. They also offer some rare / unusual trees and shrubs, as well as small fruit.

Silver Creek Nursery

Silver Creek Nursery is located in Wellesley, ON. They are committed to organic and sustainable practices, and are in the process of becoming certified organic. Silver Creek has a wide selection of fruit tree varieties, including apricots, pears, apples, plums, sweet cherries, and peaches. While they do carry some zone 3 selections, most of their trees are more suited to the warmer Canadian zones (4, 5, and 6). Because of this, you will want to check the rootstock of your selections if you are in a colder zone. That said, I’ve gotten apricots from them that have survived terrible winters that killed off some of my other trees that should have been fully hardy.

T&T Seeds

T&T Seeds is primarily a garden seed seller, but they also carry some fruit trees and berries. They bill themselves as specializing in short-season annuals and perennials, and most of their fruit tree stock is hardy to zone 2 or, at most, zone 3. T&T is based out of Headingly, MB.


Treetime is not primarily a fruit tree seller, and they generally offer bulk amounts of their trees. However, there is a good selection of berries, some fruit trees such as plums, and some interesting native fruit. Treetime is based out of Edmonton, AB.

Vignes Chez Soi

Located in Granby, QC, Vignes Chez Soi sells grape vines. They have a wide selection of hardy grapes, including a few that are hardy to zone 2 & 3. Vignes Chez Soi carries blue, red, and green grapes. They also have some seedless selections that will grow in the warmer zones of Canada (4&5). We are trying out a bunch of grapes from Vignes Chez Soi, as grapes are a bit easier to push zones with, given that you can take the vines down, lay them on the ground, and cover them to insulate them for the winter.

Whiffletree Nursery

From Elnora, ON, Whiffletree Nursery has a wide selection of fruit trees, including some unusual things like shipova and improved mountain ash. While most of their trees are geared more toward the warmer Canadian zones, they do have a significant number of zone 3 hardy fruit trees. Much of the rootstock they use is also hardy to colder zones (though you will still want to pay attention to the rootstock if you are in zone 2 or 3).

Do you know of other reputable fruit tree nurseries that will ship trees within Canada? Leave me a comment, and I’ll add it to my list!

Pin it for later:

Big List of Where to Order Fruit Trees In Canada - Rural Dreams

By Jess

16 Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 & 3

March 9, 2019 | Orchard | 28 Comments

Two green and red apples on a branch.

A lot of people have the impression that there isn’t much we can grow here in Zones 2 and 3. While we won’t be growing citrus or peaches or sweet cherries, there is a surprising selection of fruit trees that survive or even thrive in our climate.

Apples are the original prairie hardy fruit tree – at least when you are discussing introduced varieties. We have a crab apple tree here that is probably original to the house (from the 1950’s), and there are many older apple trees in the various towns and farmyards around here. Apples are particularly nice for the homestead, because many varieties store well in a root cellar for several months, allowing you to harvest them and put them into storage without having to can, dry, or freeze them.

Most Prairie apples are smaller and more tart than what you would buy at the grocery store…especially since the apples at the store seem to be getting sweeter and sweeter! Recent breeding programs have improved many varieties, but there are also older favorites that are worth a look. The University of Saskatchewan has posted a fantastic article from 1991 by breeder Roger Vick, which discusses the history and development of Prairie-hardy apples, with a list of ‘recommended’ varieties; it also includes a list and brief description of all of the hardy named varieties at that time.

The University of Saskatchewan also has extensive descriptions of the apples they grow at their test site, which are worth checking out.

The Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta group on Facebook is another great resource for growing fruit in difficult conditions.

I have made a big list of Canadian bare root fruit tree suppliers, but some of them are located in relatively warm zones in Ontario and Quebec, so you will need to pay a bit of attention to what rootstocks they are using. We prefer Antonovka (full size trees) and Bud 118 (Semi-dwarf trees) for our cold, windy, and drought-prone location; other rootstocks might be just as good or even better for you, depending on your minimum temperatures, soil type, and rainfall. It is also worth noting that most apple trees require a pollenator, so check your neighborhood to see if there is an apple or crab apple nearby, or plan to plant two trees.

If you are also interested in growing pears, I’ve written an article describing 21 different hardy pear trees for zones 2 & 3, as well, with links to nurseries where you can purchase them.

A red apple hanging from a branch.
Image by pixel2013 on pixabay.

Here are sixteen hardy apple varieties that are on our homestead or our wish list, with links to some reputable suppliers that carry those varieties (at least as of spring, 2019):

Battleford (zone 2) – a classic Prairie apple! The Battleford apple was selected here in Saskatchewan, and is very hardy. They are also quite early, ripening in mid-August. It is best used as a cooking apple. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Cortland (zone 3) – Another old selection, that was released in 1915. Cortland apples are fairly late for the Prairies, ripening in October. They are reputed to be quite disease resistant, and the apples themselves are slow to brown, making them especially good for drying; they are also sweet enough to eat out of hand. Silver Creek Nursery and Whiffletree carry these.

Fireside (zone 3) – An older (early 1900’s) selection that is reported to be quite sweet and juicy. They ripen in mid-October, and are said to be excellent keepers. I haven’t gotten one of these yet, as my focus has been on earlier apples – I am not convinced that a mid-October would have a chance to ripen here, most years; however, it’s on my wishlist as a sweet apple that is a long-keeper. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Honeycrisp (zone 3) – A newer apple that is quite popular. We have a Honeycrisp here at our place that has survived some very low temperatures (below -40), and we are quite pleased with how well the apples store. In our area, the apples are pretty tart at harvest, but they get sweeter in the root cellar. Most of the sites indicate that Honeycrisp is difficult to grow, but ours has done well with no special care. I think we got our Honeycrisp from T&T Seeds, but Whiffletree and Silver Creek also carry them.

A cold-hardy zone 3 Honeycrisp apple
A Honeycrisp apple from our own tree

Lautz (zone 3) – This one is on our wish list, as it is reported to be a very long-storing variety that will keep up to 6 months. Hardy Fruit Trees carries these.

Minnesota 447 / Frostbite apple (zone 3) – These are an older variety, which was identified and used for breeding other apple varieties in the early to mid-1900’s, but not released as a named variety until 2008. The flavor of these apples is described as being intense and sweet, and they are reported to be excellent storage apples, lasting up to a year in commercial storage. These are not a vigorous tree this far north, but I really wanted to try one, just for the storage time. They ripen in mid-October. We got ours from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Whiffletree

Norkent apple (zone 2) – Bred in Morden, Manitoba, Norkent is a very hardy tree, with good quality eating apples. Norkents are supposed to be decent storing apples, as well, storing up to 14 weeks, though they are reported to lose flavor towards the end of the storage time. They ripen in mid to late August. We got ours from Whiffletree, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and T&T Seeds.

Norland apple (zone 2) – A very hardy medium-sized apple that is good for fresh eating or making applesauce. Norlands ripen fairly early – in mid-August, which is handy in our short season. They are also reported to bear fruit quite young, though we haven’t gotten fruit from ours, yet. We got our Norland apple tree from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Silver Creek

Nova Easygro (zone 3) – These newer apples have been described as ideal for organic growers, as they are very disease resistant, and will store for a couple of months. They are also reported to be a tasty apple, with crisp white flesh and a sweet flavor. It is on our wish list because of the disease resistance, but has not been a priority due to their late ripening (mid-October), which is late enough in the season that we probably would not get ripe apples most years in our location. Silver Creek and Whiffletree carry these.

Parkland apple (zone 2) – Parkland apples are extremely cold hardy (though susceptible to fireblight), and are grown as far north as Alaska. They are described as being tart in flavor, but they are very early (early August) and will keep for a couple of months. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

Prairie Sensation (zone 2) – A University of Saskatchewan release from 2006, Prairie Sensation is described as an aromatic apple with a pleasant, mild flavor. It is also supposed to be a good storage apple. They ripen in mid-September, which is perfect for our season. We ordered one of these from Whiffletree for 2019.

an apple tree branch with apples on it
Image by Capri23auto on pixabay

Red Astrachan apple (zone 3) – These were developed in Russia in the 1700’s, and are reported to be very flavorful. They are a fairly early apple, ripening in mid-August. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else.

September Ruby apple (zone 2) – A super-hardy apple with medium-sized fruit that is good for eating or cooking. As the name suggests, they ripen in early September, and are said to be a good keeper (up to 4 months). We got ours from Whiffletree.

Sweet Sixteen apple (zone 3) – These apples are described as having a complex flavor that is almost spicy, and that taste better when grown in cold climates. They are fairly disease-resistant, and are said to store well, though I haven’t seen anyone commit to exactly how long they will store for. Sweet Sixteen apples ripen in early October. We got ours from Whiffletree Nursery, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and Silver Creek.

Wealthy apple (zone 3) – Wealthy apples are an heirloom variety that dates back to the mid-1800’s. They are reported to be juicy and sweet, as well as disease resistant, making them good for organic growing. They ripen in early September, so they will ripen before things freeze here at our location. Wealthy apples are on our wish list. Hardy Fruit Trees, Whiffletree, and Silver Creek Nurseries carry them.

Wolf River apple (zone 3) – These are a heritage cooking apple that are renowned for their large size. They are fairly late (early October), and susceptible to fireblight, but are resistant to most other apple diseases. I was quite taken with the idea of producing huge apples, though it will be hit-and-miss with our early freezes. Our tree hasn’t produced fruit yet, but I am excited to see how big they are when it finally does! We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

If you missed it earlier, you can find links to a ton of Canadian fruit tree suppliers here.

Pin it for later:

Sixteen Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 and 3 - Rural Dreams

By Jess

Ordering Bare Root Fruit Trees in Canada

March 1, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

a row of young fruit trees in a grassy area

Just a couple of days ago, it was -35 at our place…and it’s almost March! While the newest zone map insists we are zone 3a, polar vortexes beg to differ, and drop us down into the -40 (and colder) range, which is pretty solidly zone 2. Locals say that these temperatures are actually closer to ‘normal’ than the 6 or so winters before; however, the extended (month-long) cold snaps are an anomaly. Climate change is clearly messing with weather patterns, and extended cold snaps may well be part of our new normal.

I suspect that long stretches of cold are not as hard on fruit trees as the melt-and-freeze cycle of chinooks that we used to get in Alberta, but we lost several of our young trees last winter, when we experienced similar long stretches of deep freeze. We plant several fruit trees and bushes every year, in the hopes of having a lush orchard at some point. This year, there were a couple of things I really wanted, so I ordered them very early, as they had sold out the year before. However, with all this cold, I am looking at ordering a few more trees to fill in the gaps I expect we’ll see in the orchard, come spring.

There are actually a pretty good selection of fruit trees that are rated zone 2 and 3 – the main trees that grow here are apples, pears, and plums, and there is a reasonable assortment of varieties from each type. However, there are not many tree nurseries that are actually within reasonable driving distance, which means we’re often ordering bare root fruit trees from far away.

We normally order bare-root trees. Bare-root trees are trees that have been grown in fields (rather than in pots), then dug up, washed off, and shipped by mail. We’ve had excellent success with bare-root trees; we’ve only had a few that did not start leafing out within a few weeks of planting, which is a pretty good success rate, when you consider how many trees we’ve planted. Our trees don’t always make it through the winters, though, which is mostly our own fault – we tend to ‘push’ zones a bit, and try out varieties that may not be fully hardy in our area.

A newly planted bare root fruit tree that has not leafed out yet

Because we’re often ordering from far away, we’ve found there are a couple of things we really have to pay attention to.

A lot of the Canadian fruit tree nurseries that will ship trees (the majority, really) are in southern Ontario and Quebec. Most of them are at least zone 5, and a couple are as warm as zone 7. Nurseries generally strive to be accurate in their zone assessments, but a zone 5 or 6 nursery is not going to be able to conclusively say that any given tree will ‘make it’ in zone 2 or 3. Sometimes things are not quite as hardy as advertised, so there is an element of risk when you are ordering from a nursery several zones warmer than you.

The odd nursery really stretches credibility with their zone ratings, so if something seems too good to be true, like a peach or a sweet cherry that is rated hardy to zone 3…well, I recommend you put your wallet down and save your money, or maybe go buy a lottery ticket, instead.

The other issue that we occasionally come across is a perfectly hardy cultivar that is grafted on a rootstock that won’t take real prairie winter. We’ve found we really have to watch this with pears, as some of them are grafted on OhxF rootstocks, which are only supposed to be zone 4 hardy, or Quince A, which simply won’t take our winters at all.

We prefer full-sized Antonovka rootstock for our apple trees, as it seems to do well with both cold and drought, which are our big challenges. We’ve also got several apples on B118 rootstock that have survived at least a couple of winters, and seem to be thriving.

Our plums and apricots are generally grafted on Mustang rootstock, which handles prairie winter just fine. Last year, we ordered a couple of plums on Myrobalan, which is supposed to be fairly hardy, though I’ve never seen a zone rating; this winter will be a good test for them, as it has been very cold.

I do recommend ordering bare-root trees, overall. If you pay close attention to the rootstocks, and cross-reference zone ratings (especially for things that seem too good to be true), you can get access to a much wider variety of cultivars, and it is often considerably cheaper to order bare-root trees than to buy potted trees at the local big-box store.

I’ve created a big list of reputable Canadian bare-root fruit tree nurseries – check it out!

By Jess