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Earl’s Organic Visits Rider and Sons

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Earl’s Organic took a group down to visit Rider and Son’s Apple Orchard in Watsonville, on the central coast of California. Following highway 1 south along the Pacific Ocean we exited at Freedom Boulevard and wound our way through beautiful apple orchards as far as the eye could see.  Fifth generation apple orchardists, Jim Rider is in charge of the fields and his brother Dick Rider oversees the packing shed. Their grandfather Homer was one of the pioneer fruit growers in the Watsonville area. The hustle and bustle of San Francisco quickly fell away as we were treated to a personal tour of the orchards by Jim Rider.

We were able to see first hand the impact the drought and warmer than usual temperatures has had on the fruit. Their total volume of apples is down this year and Dick Rider anticipates that the season will end earlier than usual. We have also noticed the seasons starting earlier and ending earlier with stone fruit and California avocados this year. The warmer weather means lack of chill hours or lack of sleep.  If you have been following our blogs you will remember that when fruit trees don’t achieve the necessary chill hours they get cranky and don’t produce the way they should.  Read more about chill hours here. 

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Earl Herrick on the far left, Jim Rider in the middle, Michael Stewart on the far right with son Rowan

Rider and Sons grow many delicious varieties of apples including the ever popular Cameo, Braeburn and Fuji. The crisp and juicy heirloom variety Esopus Spitzenberg is now making a short appearance. Made popular by Thomas Jefferson in 1790, this is a great choice for making apple pie. The real star at Rider and Sons is the Jonagold, named after its parents, the Jonathan and Golden Delicious.  They pick the Jonagold apple at its optimum maturity and flavor. Sweet, tart and juicy, the Jonagold is exceptional eaten out of hand, used for cooking and is excellent for juicing and making hard cider.  The best tasting Jonagold will have developed a beautiful golden background before it is picked. This means it has been on the tree longer and has more flavor. Jim Rider says the apples are ready to be harvested when “they have a hint of yellow in the background color.”  Most growers pick it too early when the background is green and the flavor has not developed. From our experience the flavor and quality of the Jonagold can not be matched as the apple season moves up to the Pacific North West. 

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Jim Rider munches on a delicious Jonagold, picked for optimum maturity and flavor. Click photo for interview with Jim.

The Watsonville area has a unique microclimate with cooler summer weather similar to San Francisco. This allows them to grow better quality apples and harvest closer to peak maturity more than warmer climates. Jonagolds require special care and attention and are selectively picked riper than most areas could. The fruit ripens slower in the cooler climate and develops the complex flavor components that can be lost with higher temperatures. Rider’s philosophy is to get them off the tree, picked and packed within a day or two and shipped immediately to be sold quickly at optimum maturity. Rider’s workers are trained to pick slowly with an eye for detail and will pick the orchard several times in order to deliver a riper, sweet and better tasting fruit.  Their goal is not to store the apples for months on end.

Some of the pickers have worked at Rider and Sons for over 10 years

Some of the pickers have worked at Rider and Sons for over 10 years

Jim Rider calls Watsonville” the Napa valley of apple growing areas.” The apples have a more intense flavor and better quality because of the cooler temperatures. Click here for an interview with Jim Rider in the Jonagold orchards.   The California apple season comes and goes quickly so be sure to search out the exceptionally flavorful Jonagold apple from Rider and Sons.


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