Harvesting the Sturmers
Graham R. Cooper
This week I’ll pick the Sturmers. The stalks would cling to the branches into the depths of winter if it weren’t for the blackbirds.
It’s late autumn and the stonefruits, berries, grapes, pears, and earlier apple varieties have either been harvested or eaten by hedgehogs (as windfalls), or by possums and birds.
The blackbirds have moved on to the Sturmer. The tree we rely on, when I walked up to it a couple of days ago, boasted five of the black males before they flew out. The brown females are not so easy to spot through the dense foliage; you can be sure that a few of them were also in there feasting.
It’s a bumper crop, as with most years, and the fruit is tree-ripened. I’ll pick what we need and leave what’s left for the wildlife. One apple apiece completes our lunchtime meal. We leave the skins on, cut them into quarters and put the cores on the compost heap. Apples are the only fruit we eat, day in, day out, year round. And from late autumn to the middle of spring that apple is the Sturmer.
It’s late autumn and I had to make the most of a fine day to replace a kitchen window’s cracked pane of glass. The forecast was for another fine day to follow and that was when I’d planned to pick the Sturmers.
By lunchtime I’d taken the glass out (prevented from shattering by several criss-cross strips of brown parcel tape), scraped out the old putty and primed the frame rebate. After lunch I did a pre-installation check by positioning the replacement glass in the frame. The width was good but it stuck out a good inch above the recess!
I’d triple checked my measurements before relaying them over the phone. How could I have got it so wrong! I needed a sheet 914 x 461mm and had been cut one at 941 x 461mm. The invoice removed all doubt: ‘4mm clear 914 x 461mm’. That it wasn’t my mistake was reassuring. Did whoever cut it have the number equivalent of dyslexia? If so – poor career choice!
What with sorting out a plank and plywood to cover the window frame overnight, chopping wood and making dinner, I ended the day no closer to starting the Sturmer harvest.
Best laid plans
The Timaru firm had a job in Fairlie the next day and before they made a start they delivered another sheet of glass. I’d intended to open the roadside gates (closed since lockdown began), so that we could make the exchange at the back door.
Best laid plans. A farming neighbour went by on his quad bike with a cattle dog on the back. The gates had been closed for so long he would have assumed that they would remain so. I had visions of a hundred head of cattle careering up our drive! The gates stayed closed.
You know how easy it is for mild panic to set in without good reason. Here was me, unwieldy sheet of glass in hand, waving frantically at the two guys in the van parked at the gate. And jogging down in my slippers. How ridiculous! Needless to say, I walked back up in a measured, dignified manner.
The next day, true to forecast, dawned fine. I had the window bedded in, held in place with diamond-shaped glazier’s points, and neatly sealed and secured with glazing compound before lunch. I was free to harvest the Sturmers in the afternoon.
Blackbirds, codling moth and disease had taken a toll. I picked all apples that were free of bugs, disease and blackbird excavations. Eating an apple a day each, we had enough apples of high quality, untouched by the above afflictions, to last us six months.
We don’t spray our fruit. We do eat Sturmers when they’re not too bug-ridden or too pecked but in those states they don’t remain edible for months on end. And a quality Sturmer apple is a great keeper.
The Sturmer is the only tree that we can rely on to provide us with raw fruit when no other raw fruit is available. We have three trees. There’s the old fella in the gully that we planted twenty-eight years ago, the middle-aged one at the edge of the vegetable garden and the youngster near June’s studio that we planted five years ago.
The specimen that borders the garden is in its prime and it alone can provide us with enough apples. The other two supplement the supply. Three trees and one more piece in the puzzle as we work to ensure our approach to self-reliance remains resilient.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully till next Monday. In my next blog post, I’ll tell you why, when I’m out in the paddocks, I always have on me a pocket knife and a length of baling twine.
Bye for now and thanks for your company.