Column: Plenty of potential for fruits and vegetablesDo you ever go looking for wild strawberries? I know where there are some. I am not going to tell where. I know where there are ground cherries. A secret place.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — People are good. Never doubt it. Since last I wrote a column, I got another gift of freshly picked asparagus. Forty-eight hours, later I got a gift of freshly picked strawberries.
The asparagus surprised me. I have given up on asparagus by Memorial Day. I really believe I never found good asparagus in June. June is when we expect strawberries. A week of June went by — and there were both of them. Asparagus and strawberries. Our wet and mild May must have been made-to-order for both.
Do you ever go looking for wild strawberries? I know where there are some. I am not going to tell where. I know where there are ground cherries. A secret place.
In truth, I don’t believe wild strawberries are better than those in supermarkets. Oh no. For one thing, native strawberries are very small. You have to have four or five berries for a mouthful.
Strawberry pickers are out every morning now, of course. This is peak of the season for cultivated strawberries. In another time — in the long, long ago — this was when Worthington watched for appearances by Charles Sundberg, who farmed north and west of town.
Charles Sundberg raised apples and strawberries — he and his family did the picking. On June mornings, Charlie arrived in town with a wagon of strawberries. Residents flocked to the wagon.
There were a couple of other pioneers who focused on producing fruit. Eric Paul, who retired to a house at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 13th Street, established the first of those orchards that thrive still in Indian Lake Township. It is my impression, however, that residents across our stretch of the American prairie have concentrated on corn, soybeans, oats, barley and flax without exploring other good things that might be produced here.
In a time gone by, I had a big garden for many years. I remember growing yellow beets and white pumpkins. Both thrived. Popcorn. Indian corn. Brussels sprouts. I never liked Brussels sprouts, but it was fun growing them. I chiefly grew usual things, but I tried a number of not-usual things along the way. I never found anything, any seed, any plant, that withered and would not thrive here.
If we ever willed to do it, I think we could make our region a vegetable production center. I think we could make it a fruit production center. We can’t do pineapples, of course. I think people have tried peaches without success. But apricots will grow here. Pears. Apples.
Jay Milbrandt (find him online) is a great-great-great grandson of Worthington’s H.J. Ludlow, the pioneer horticulturist who cultivated the Okabena apple in his extensive orchard on the south shore of Lake Okabena.
Milbrandt declares the Okabena “makes, literally, THE best apple pies and applesauce.” A century ago, Okabena was one of the 10 most popular varieties in America. Milbrandt says the once-famous apple is near extinction, due only to neglect and disinterest. Now, “I have a mission: Save the Okabena Apple.”
Today, Milbrandt reports, there are 60 newly grafted Okabena apple trees under cultivation in a greenhouse. “It may be another year before the trees will be planted, but we will soon have an orchard. The Okabena Apple will be saved.”
The big disappointment for fruit production in our area is what has happened to our plum trees. Long before Laura Ingalls and her family built their house on a bank of Plum Creek, plum trees were thriving on our prairie. And they are delicious plums.
Beginning — I don’t know — four or five years ago, all the wild plum trees I know of in the region were overrun by some manner of worm that builds a cobweb nest along the the tree trunk and then sends out hundreds of squiggly caterpillars along every branch and twig. In a very short while, every leaf is devoured. It has been a long time since I saw any of the trees produce a red plum.
Of course, there is some way to control the Plum Menace if someone were interested in trying. Along with our other fruit, we could have plum orchards.
We have not yet given our soil a good test of all it can do.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.