Growing apples the hard way

Jim and Mary Ann Rahe thought growing heritage apples would be an enjoyable retirement project.

Jim Rahe and his wife grow 50 cultivars of apples and 10 of pear at their Aldergrove orchard.

You know the old expression ‘one thing leads to another.’ Well, it’s absolutely true.

For instance, unbeknownst to me, it began about a month ago, when I was attending a lecture on fruit tree pruning at the annual BCLNA trade show. The speaker, Richard Hallman, happened to mention one of his favorite local growers, Annie’s Orchard in Aldergrove.

So I jotted the name down on my handout.

Two weeks later, I am visiting Doug DeJong of Misty Meadow Nursery in Surrey to get the back story on the Columnade apples (which he helped to select), when I asked him if he had heard of Annie’s Orchard.

To my surprise, he knew the orchard and the grower, Jim Rahe, quite well, and had high praise for both.

Needless to say, this piqued my interest, so I decided to pay them an impromptu visit.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Mary Ann, Jim’s wife, who handles the direct fruit sales out of their quaint farm gate store beside their home.

I introduced myself and asked permission to do a little photography for the book – although I was also hoping to speak to Jim.

She said that it was fine, but that I would have to find him first, as he was picking apples at the back of the orchard, which is some four acres in size.

I told her that was no problem, and I started hiking past row after row of carefully trained apples and pears, many of which were still loaded with fruit.

I walked directly to the back of the orchard, but with no Jim in sight,  I decided to do my photography while working my way back, row by row, thinking that I’m bound to bump into him sooner or later.

I saw some things I had never seen before – ‘Bosc’ pears that made my fist look puny, huge ‘Red Northern Spy’ apples, large clusters of purplish ‘Kerr’ crabapples, and ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ apples, taking on a red blush (they are normally entirely green).

An hour and half later, I finally bumped into Jim, who had decided to pick at the front of the orchard.

Needless to say, I had a few questions.

Not that it really matters, but my first impression was a favourable one – he had his pick-up truck parked between rows with the country music playing and was busy organizing the apples he had just picked into labeled boxes.

This was obviously no gentile farmer, but a true hands-on sort of guy.

So I introduced myself and barraged him with my many queries.

Jim, a former plant pathologist and professor emeritus with Simon Fraser University, decided, along with his wife, that growing heritage apples for fresh, local consumption would be an enjoyable retirement project, despite the challenges of the wet weather (causing Anthracnose canker) and localized pests, such as apple maggot.

Together they sell about 30,000 pounds a year, with their picking season lasting from late July through to mid-October.

Jim considers the challenges of coastal growing to be “a blessing in disguise”, as large commercial growers would soon take over if it were any easier.

They currently grow over 50 cultivars of apples and 10 of pear, with many of them being Jim’s crosses, such as the disease resistant ‘Blushing Susan.’

These amount to some 2,300 trees, with their favourite eating apples being ‘Sundance’, ‘Spartan’, ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Spigold’ and the aforementioned ‘Blushing Susan’.

Annie’s Orchard is located at 4092 – 248th Street in Aldergrove, and it is open August through to November.

 

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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