Fruit of the earth

  • Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 5:50pm
  • Life

Story by Sarah Jackson Herald Writer Photos by Jennifer Buchanan Herald Photographer

When most people think of Washington state and apples, they’re transported east of the mountains, where huge orchards and giant packing houses reign, Aplets and Cotlets are available at every roadside stand and the sun seems to shine all year long.

They’re not usually imagining the cool and cloudy foothills on this side of the Cascades.

But that’s exactly where Ed’s Apples of rural Sultan is thriving right now.

Here big, fat Jonagolds are in season. They’re tasty and crunchy and they come right off the trees, their pale yellow skin blushed with rouge.

Unlike many of the apples sold in grocery stores, this fruit will never sit in a high-tech cold storage facility.

“We have tree-ripened fruit. That’s what sets us apart,” said Roxanne Husmann, 53, who runs the farm with her husband, the founder, Ed Husmann, 68. “We don’t pick until we get orders.”

Ed Husmann settled here about 30 years ago. Though he was a busy pilot for United Airlines, he wanted to make good use of the land. He kept hearing about apples and other tree fruit for this side of the mountains.

He toured orchards in Skagit County and talked to tree fruit society folks who promoted varieties that would thrive commercially west of the mountains, including Jonagolds.

Husmann, a board member for the Washington State and Snohomish County farm bureaus, learned that Washington’s first apples and pears were grown on the less-sunny side.

It wasn’t until powerful dams were constructed on the Columbia River in the early 1900s that large-scale orchards were able to sprout so fruitfully in Eastern Washington with the aid of irrigation.

“I wanted to make the land productive,” Ed Husmann said of his 23-acre homestead, a former dairy. “That seemed to be the logical thing.”

Husmann went ahead and started planting what is now five acres of orchard. He didn’t start selling apples until about 10 years ago, however, when he and Roxanne were married and he had retired from United at age 60.

Today Jonagold trees make up about half the farm’s cultivated acreage, with the remainder devoted to Spartan, Gala, Melrose and Fuji apples, available in small quantities now, as well as Gravensteins, which are the first to ripen and sell out in late summer.

Jonagold apples, a cross of Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples, have the tart sweetness of a Jonathan and the juicy crispness of a Golden Delicious.

“They’re great for applesauce. They’re excellent for cooking,” Roxanne Husmann said. “They keep their shape when you freeze them.”

Extra big, they’re also great keepers, Ed Husmann said, adding that people who store their apples in a cool, dry place can be eating fall’s fruits into February.

“Jonagolds will sugar up,” he said. “They become sweeter after they’re picked.”

The Husmanns also grow blueberries, plums and pears in small quantities.

“We’re getting more serious now. We’re planting more trees,” Ed Husmann said of their apple enterprise, which includes new rows of Honey Crisp apple trees. “I’m going to maybe get into peaches.”

Ed’s Apples aren’t organic. With each crop the Husmanns must combat scab, apple maggot and a variety of destructive fungi. Customers at grocery stores are accustomed to near-perfect apples, so it’s tough to compete.

Husmann doesn’t believe organic is necessarily better or healthier, however.

He prefers conventional methods for disease and pest control, applied with a good understanding of the products and common sense.

“Where we run into trouble is when people abuse and misuse those things,” he said, adding that he tries to keep spraying to a minimum.

Indeed, not every single one of Ed’s Apples is perfect. Many have spots, aberrations on the skin that don’t extend into the apple. Those can be used for cider, however.

The Husmanns’ decidedly local crop is one of only a few in Snohomish County.

“Who knows. This might be the next big thing,” Ed Husmann said. “The latest twist is buy local.”

Roxanne Husmann, a master gardener and a city girl who has fallen in love with country living, said their customers value the fact that they can visit the farm in person. In fact, it’s about the only way customers can get their apples for a mere 50 cents a pound.

Visitors aren’t allowed to pick their own apples. Not only is the practice a little risky, but inexperienced pickers can inadvertently damage the trees as well. Apple fans can, however, tour the farm’s orchards, natural creeks, waterfalls and a large pond with an island, all with a backdrop of Cascade mountain peaks.

The Husmanns, who do all their own picking and pruning, also host weddings, picnics and reunions on their idyllic property.

“I love it. I really do,” Roxanne Husmann said of her rural life as an apple farmer. “It’s just fun to watch things grow. People can come here and see the apple trees and have the view of the country.”

Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or sjackson@heraldnet.com. Visit her blog at www.heraldnet.com/ecogeek.