A Typical Apple Harvest From a Small Apple Tree.

This is how I envisioned the first apple harvest from my own small apple trees would be.

Karen Bertelsen in red rose covered vintage dress, sitting on grass with a basket of ripe apples.

Sitting on a lush field of green surrounded by antique wicker baskets spilling with fresh, crisp apples. These apples would magically transform themselves into pies. Obviously.  As I floated across the grass towards home, wicker basket nestled in the crook of my arm, I’d glance over my shoulder at the wonder of the world that created this feast of sweet fruit. . Also I would look super-cute.

This is how it actually was.

Sorry to shatter the dream.

I did end up getting slightly more than one apple from my very first true apple harvest but it wasn’t much more than one.  I got 11 apples.   Of the 6 varieties I grow I managed to salvage 2 varieties.  The rest were stolen by a band of ne’re do well squirrels.

In defence of my dream, the apples I did get were gorgeous.  Big, healthy fruit without a single blemish.  My main harvest was of Jonagolds, a sweet eating apple with a barely there tartness.

How did this happen?  How did I go from 70 apples on my tree to 11?

This is a Typical Small Apple Tree Harvest

Like this:

  • In early June I thinned my apples to one apple per cluster to improve the quality of my apples.
  • After thinning I was left with 70 apples on my 2, small espalier trees.
  • Every apple was bagged with a ventilated plastic bag to keep disease and critters off of them.
  • Early July I  noticed the apples were so hot in their bags because of our scorching summer that the skin on some of them was scalded, so I removed the bags.
  • Enter critters, stage left.
  • One morning in late July I glanced out my kitchen window to see an apple sitting on my neighbour’s fence. Weird. I wonder why she left that there.
  • The next morning I found an apple under my tomato plant.
  • That night I found a  half eaten apple in the middle of the road.
  • A few days later, looking down upon me from my roof was a squirrel.  With an apple.
  • This continued off and on for the next few weeks until I finally tangled my espalier trees up with  deer fencing so squirrels couldn’t get to my apples.
  • And then I found more apples scattered around the neighbourhood.
  • I tightened up the knot of fencing around my trees and hoped for the best.  Squirrels are more tenacious than you might think. And smarter. And hungrier.

By the end of the season I had 11 apples left.


When you consider both the size of the trees and myself there’s really no reason to be disappointed. I can only eat so many apples and wouldn’t have anywhere to keep baskets upon baskets of them for long term storage anyway.

So really it’s kind of a good thing that I only got 11 apples. Although a few bushels may have been just the nudge I needed to move to an actual farm where I’d have farmhands neatly lined up in military trenches ready to shoot squirrels.


When I first picked my apples I shared a picture of them on Instagram and everyone wanted to know if I had picked these apples myself WHY would they have stickers on them???

Good question.

Before picking the apples I put a sticker on them to indicate which type they were so I wouldn’t get them confused.  J for Jonagold, M for McIntosh and ? for Don’t know what the hell this one is, I found it on the ground.


My 9 apples are now stored safely in my refrigerator. Only 9 because I ate two of them.  If I don’t force myself to eat them right away, I’m the type of person who will continue to save these few apples I’m so very proud of, until they just rot into a liquid puddle of squoo at the bottom of my fridge.

I shall now formulate a plan to get me through next year’s harvest with at least 30 apples and no dead squirrels.

I’ve already taken care of the most important part of it all – I’ve ordered a new vintage apple picking dress.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←


A Typical Apple Harvest From a Small Apple Tree.


  1. Colleen Connor says:

    I planted espalier combo apple and pear trees this past spring. What is all this talk about bagging the fruit? I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oh and all the squirrels and chipmunks I am dealing with right not for my bulbs, it is like fighting the Caliphate. The resident ones met their maker (not sure how, found a few dead ones) but the replace soldiers are much much worse.

  2. Marna says:

    Those darn squirrels! They do still a lot and don’t finish eating what they start on, then go on to another one or something else! I have dogs that love squirrels, and will kill them if I don’t scare the squirrels off (birds too). Luckily the dogs aren’t always out, and we do use netting on some things. So far they don’t like my Meyer lemons.

  3. Jacquie Gariano says:

    I just love your posts. So funny. We have a city lot but my daughter gets the most out of it. (I have a black thumb, only allowed to weed and harvest) We have a peach and appacot (sic) tree and have had many years of feeding the squirrels and birds. Tried a lot of things and some worked, most not. The birds really love the strawberries and tomatoes. We have discussed an apple tree, but live only 2 hours away from Apple Hill in Placerville, CA. So since they have apples, apple cider, fudge and other great treats we take our granddaughter and go there. There are so many things to do with apples: apple juice, apple butter, applesauce, frozen apple pie mix, apple muffins, apple cider doughnuts (my favorite) that we do come home with a lot.
    Keep up the good work and keep writing your blog, we all seem to love it a lot.

  4. Bessie says:

    I fight with Squirrels every year. -Enter garage sale.– find small trap. Put peanuts in trap–set by best place to get them . Catch squirrel — Take to area by river . Release . Caught 28 this year and gave new home. No more chewed up bird feeders , tomatoes, apples or zucchini. — I see one at feeder this morning .
    Time to get out trap.

  5. Meg says:

    What gorgeous apples! I love your apple posts!

    We had a big old tree in my yard when I was a girl. It must’ve been 45 feet high. When it came down in a storm, the guys who cut up the wood almost didn’t believe us that it was an apple tree. The surfeit of blossoms were to die for in the spring, but it only ever had inedible woody buggy apples. I’ve been yearning for a gorgeous apple tree ever since.

    • Karen says:

      Well. Get yourself one! ~ karen

      • Meg says:

        Oh yes! As soon as I have a yard to stick it in! I’ll have my container plants til then. :) *…goes to research if you can keep apple trees in a bucket*

      • Meg says:

        *update* I’m VERY SILLY. of course there are people that grow apples in containers.

        I mean, I guess I was focused on having one outside. I even have lemon trees indoors so it’s not that I’m not unaccustomed to plants in pots.

        *off to research and go buy a container apple tree or two*

  6. Idaho Girl says:

    After losing most of my pumpkins to squirrels gnawing on them 2 summers ago, last summer I spread bird netting over the top of the pumpkin patch and the birdhouse gourds to protect them (I found swearing wasn’t enough to keep them away). I had to prop wooden stakes underneath the netting that were tall enough to put enough distance between the pumpkins and the netting (so the squirrels couldn’t snuggle up to it and leave chew marks on the pumpkins through the netting), and it was very effective. Last fall I got a new neighbor who decided there were too many squirrels competing with the grouse he was feeding in his yard, so he thinned them out quite a bit (the squirrels, not the grouse). This summer with a greatly reduced squirrel population I didn’t have to put netting on anything, although by next summer their numbers will probably have recovered. I do occasionally find apples the few surviving squirrels have sampled and thrown over the fence from my other neighbor’s yard. I will admit I miss sitting on the patio and watching “squirrel TV”.

  7. Dave says:

    Reminds me of the great tomato pilferage of 1998 (or some late 90s / early 00s year, but 1998 sounds good). I planted several tomato plants in our back yard and one morning I looked out and all the way along the top fence boards of our 200′ deep lot was a tomato with a bite taken out of it, and another, and another, and another, and another. Stupid friggin’ squirrels pretty much stripped my tomato plants bare. If they wanted to eat a dozen of them, fine. But no. They had to take a bite out of each one of them and leave them on my fence to taunt me. Evil bastards. We live trapped and relocated a couple dozen of those bad boys to a wooded area ironically close to where we now live so their descendants can torment me by digging up my flower beds and planters.
    I’ll have to tell you about the time we live trapped pigeons in the back yard and the traumatic outcome of that, which has scarred me for life.

  8. Hannah says:

    Oh my goodness I am sick with envy. The one apple I ever got was the size of a persimmon. The last holdout from my apple tree planting venture 4 years ago gave up the ghost this summer. I think I have to accept that zone 2 is just not meant for apples. My CRABAPPLE tree died over the winter.

    Karen, you have beautiful, well-groomed apples. I am both jealous and impressed.

  9. Amie says:

    Ugh damn rats with cute tails and just as much mange! They steal my green tomatoes and leave them on my fence. They also dig up my garlic and any attempt at kale. Or that could be the Mama raccoon living in my neighbour’s shed… But I did see a squirrel running away with an orange tomato, right before I tried pelting it with rocks.

  10. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Good lord, those are some amazing baby blues ya got there girl…

  11. Anna Snider says:

    I feel your pain and then some…the squirrels stole all of our apples except 1. Everyone that came into our backyard at the end of August commented on the one beautiful apple left on the tree. What were we going to do with it?! Share it five ways of course…hopefully 5 equal parts as the kids get squirrelly (pun intended) when things aren’t exactly fair. Then, one fateful day in September my daughter went out to play and immediately came back inside and accused me of eating “the Apple”. It wasn’t me, I swear. Blasted squirrels.

    Looking forward to hear your solution to the squirrels vs. apples dilemma! I was going to put all the apples in baggies, but never got around to it. Sounds like it’s a good thing with the hot summer we had this year.

  12. Tess says:

    I don’t know about those squirrels, maybe set up a critter cam so you can watch them steal your apples, little buggairs. Yeah, outside of a squirrel proof cage what can you do, eh?

    but I do agree your apples are gorgeous. I could see me biting into a sun-warmed one right off that cute little espaliered tree. (after using my wrinkled shirt to wipe off any residual squirrel drool and schmutz)

  13. Catherine says:

    Squirrels are arseholes. She said, stroking her squirrelskin pyjamas…..

  14. Patricia Knight says:

    I love reading your blog. You truly make me laugh.

  15. Eileen says:

    Hey, at least you got 11! I finally had 40 peaches mature on my little tree one year. Noticed a couple were “tasted” so I tied the remaining ones up with individual squares of garden fleece. Came back to check on harvest a couple of days later and there was NOT. ONE. PEACH. One piece of the fleece lying under the tree, and some of the string left on the branches.
    This was the year after I had put a screen cage around the whole tree, with the bottom staked into the ground all around, and rocks around the edge. Something got in there without leaving a trace and stole all that year’s fruit too (no, not humans).
    I no longer have a peach tree.

  16. Safetydog says:

    I have the same problem with squirrels in my garden. OK, steal my produce, ya rodent, but be grateful enough to eat the whole thing! Don’t just take a few bites and toss it. Pisses me off!

  17. Amanda says:

    There’s a hilarious kids book called, “Those Darn Squirrels”. You’re nothing like old man Fookwire, but every time I hear a squirrel story I think of this book. The squirrels in my yard steal avocados and oranges and eat our bird seed. They are so bold. Over the summer while laying outside on the grass with my youngest son a squirrel kept dropping huge avocados from the very top of our tree down. I said thank you and gathered them all up. These were up so high we probably wouldn’t have been able to pick them! Haha.

  18. Caye Aiello says:

    Oh, Karen, I do so love reading your blog! My laugh for the day is ensured and your photographs get better and better. Never stop!

  19. Barb says:

    Great post! SO glad you got a few beautiful apples. I have one tree and so far the animals are winning. Not even sure who or what is picking them but it’s sad. And I’m also mad as they only take a few bites and then leave them. Why not just take and eat the whole apple and leave the rest for me? Little stinkers. Grrrrr!

  20. Sandra says:

    I’m dying…vintage apple picking dress🤣I have the same fantasies. PS: the apples
    You salvaged are gorgeous. So are you. Even without makeup and in a wrinkled t-shirt. It’s a CUTE t-shirt!

  21. linda in Illinois says:

    Beautiful apples..
    question – how are you still in a tank top and shorts… it’s frigid here in Illinois and frost has been here almost every morning since the end of September. We completely passed fall, straight into early winter.
    You look amazing in the vintage dress though.

    • Karen says:

      Those pictures are from 10 days ago and wasn’t just warm, it was HOT out. Now it’s cold and we’ve had a couple of light frosts. ~ karen!

  22. Speckhen says:

    I use small organza gift bags, and they work so well. No apple maggots this year – just perfect Honeycrisp apples. No worry about scald either. I had one apple fall and picked it up – covered in its bag it was still untouched. You can buy a gross cheap, and re-use them year to year. Highly recommended!!!!

  23. David in Oakville says:

    Have to admit that first photo generated both an eye roll and a little excitement that I was about to watch a video of you baking an apple pie with assistance from your woodland animal friends.

    Oh well…

    At least there is more cursing in the true to life version and squirrel hijinks are hard to beat.

    I added an espalier apple tree to my very small back yard (inspired by you) and this year I saw 4 wee apples emerge (Braeburns I think). Left them for the chipmunks and birds. Now I am hopeful for next year. I will be watching with interest to see what you devise to outsmart the squirrels.

  24. Mary W says:

    Let’s get our priorities straight – the apple picking dress! Remember each of these 9 apples will be that more delicious while eating your forbidden fruit. Next year, try hanging ripe corn in it’s husk with tantalizing peeks of the kernels inside, on strings around your ripening fruit.

  25. Sarah McDonnell says:

    Need a recipe for Squirrel Jerky? It keeps longer than apples.

  26. Emily says:

    It won’t be any consolation, but when I read your reasoning behind thinning the apples, I thinned the apples on our little tree, which fairly freaked out my husband, and made me really really hope you were right. Because of past experience, I already knew to tie a big net over our small tree to thwart squirrels. I harvested several buckets full of delicious beautiful apples, our best haul yet. I was also dressed like you…in the second photo, although in my imagination it is always more like the first.

  27. Angela says:

    Karen, I do feel your pain. We have two ginormous apple trees in our back yard, and I truly harvested only one apple. Because squirrels. They ate hundreds of them. On the upside, we did have front row seats to the circle of life: the half-eaten apples the squirrels scattered attracted fruit flies, which attracted bats, which drew in an amazingly huge owl as well as all other manner of birds. It’s how I learned the beautiful bluejay is somewhat of an a-hole. LOL.

  28. Marilyn Meagher says:

    Beautiful apples karen, enjoy every single one. Had I known I could blame it on the squirrels I would have raided your front yard myself ! Lol

  29. p says:

    Nobody said “espalier” and it’s my favorite word ever. I just had to type it!
    Those apples are gorgeous!!

    I’m thinking of some kind of fall recipe involving a squirrel stew with baked Jonagolds…

  30. Cathy Reeves says:

    When I bought my house 25+ yrs ago there was an apple tree in back. They were always diseased but squirrels would take a bite and toss ‘em. While sitting at my patio table one evening, one of those rodents lobbed not 1 but 2 right past my head missing my ear by inches. I swear he said “keep your rotten fruit, ya miserable animal!” before escaping up the tree.
    I replaced that tree with an ornamental apple whose gorgeous blooms smell somewhat like rotten fruit.

  31. Ann Roberts says:

    Next year try leaving those plastic bags on. I live way further south than you do, and in a much warmer climate. I still leave them on all year and they turn out fine. No scald. No nothing. I think they tend to look a bit rough in the bags during the heat and humidity, but time to harvest and they are perfect. My bags weren’t even ventitilated. I just clipped a tiny bit off the bottom corners before I bagged the apples, just to let moisture drain.

    If I didn’t bag apples, I would never get a single one. Squirrels would not be the problem. Every single type of apple pest would be

    • Karen says:

      Hey Ann! I bagged them last year and it worked perfectly. This year, definitely not. :/ Don’t forget that just because it’s Canada doesn’t mean it isn’t hot. This summer it regularly got over 100 degrees Fahrenheit so inside those bags it would have been “just add butter and cinnamon” hot. They were literally baked apples. Next year I’ll probably use mesh bags or even clay (which is a HUGE pain). ~ karen!

  32. Jody says:

    Bastard squirrels

    • Carol says:

      I’m with you on this. Have watched my crops of prunes and figs be trashed by squirrels for the last few years. However, this year, the family of scrub jays that took over the backyard seemed to drive out the squirrels, so I actually had a bumper crop of fresh prunes and figs! I’m not much crazier about scrub jays than squirrels, they are SO noisy, but at least they tend to leave the fruit alone. Good choice on Jonagolds. They are my fave apple.

  33. Susan says:

    I had much the same problem with tomatoes and squirrels one summer, which led to installation of a fully covered PVC and netting vegetable garden. Worked great until the chipmunks found a way to burrow in. We nick-named them the chip-pigs. One or two bites of everything!

  34. Joyce says:

    Squirrels and bugs got all the good apples this year. It is damned hard to cut up the wizened survivors but we had a cobbler. Next year we bag!
    This is our first year on the farmette. So much to learn and do…

  35. Heather says:

    Well done! Just having espaliered an apple tree to your front porch is impressive. Looking forward to seeing the apple picking dress! : )

  36. Amy says:

    Karen, Karen, Karen.
    First, you say only a single apple, and then you reveal there were actually 11. Don’t be discouraged! 11 is 11 TIMES 1! Think of the bounty of 11!

    Thanks for keeping us always amused, and sometimes snort-outloud-laughing!


  37. judy says:

    Judy at almost 4 am why oh why can’t I sleep?

  38. Paula says:

    This year was my first true harvest as well. I used the little gift bags to cover mine so they could breath, I tried the plastic last year but I found (as you did) that they don’t seem to be the best option. I picked 9 apples and they weren’t perfect – perhaps I should have tied the baggie a little tighter? Sometimes the baggie sat right against the edge of the apple and that is where the marks were, so clearly whatever it was, managed to access the apple through the fabric.

    I will do what is always done in gardening…try again next year!

  39. judy says:

    Those are very pretty apples and so is the apple lady. I wonder about the genetics of humans like you and Virginia Elizabeth Barnes and her husband Paul. You have genius and energy and organizational skills beyond believing. I admire all of you and wish…nope at 78 I am not going to transmogrify into The little engine that could. I will read you and then take a nice nap cause I will be exhausted.

  40. Toby Fouks says:

    Karen, how did I ever get to be this ripe old age without discovering your hilarious blogs until now? The writing is terrific and the images to drool over. I planted grape vines along the side of a garage when I first moved to Salt Spring almost 20 years ago. I had had the other three sides of the garden fenced because I knew it would be a waste of time to try to grow anything with marauding herds of deer everywhere. In the second year there were grapes aplent. I had had a frame built out from the garage above them from which leevalley tools netting was hung to prevent bird incursions. I recall the day I stood back, told myself that I would pick the grapes the next day. Ah, innocence. When I returned the next day there was — and I am not exaggerating — one small bunch of grapes where there had been gazillions. No one had told me that there were raccoons on the island and that they love grapes. I had never seen a raccoon here, still haven’t. I no longer have the grapevines — I advertised them locally and people came for them. I now grow items for cutworms and some years, rabbits.

    • Karen says:

      Ha!!! Well that’s ambitious of you. Perhaps next year you could add cabbage moths to the list of pests you raise. ~ karen!

  41. Kipper says:

    Beautiful apples! I grew my first pumpkin this year. It is now on the dining table. Nine year old kid next door wanted to carve it😳. I said “You cannot carve Penelope, I’m very proud of her”. I was totally unaware at the time that I was petting the pumpkin. Very embarrassed when kid yelled at her brother and told him not only was I petting the pumpkin, I’d named it and wouldn’t let her carve it. Brother is a few years older than sister and he just laughed. Penelope will be a feast for the hens after Halloween.

    • Hazel says:

      We were eating dinner last night and my daughter asked if I’d cooked Susannah? Erm, sorry?! She’d named our squashes and I’d roasted Susannah. Apparently that was ok but I’m not allowed to do the same thing with Geraldine…

  42. Amanda says:

    Karen I’ve been following you for a couple of months now and I just have to tell you how much I enjoy your adventures and misadventures. As the reluctant but supportive wife of a do-it-yourselfer I can relate to so many of the situations you find yourself in and I grimace with empathy but smile at your tenacity and can do attitude. Keep up the great work!

  43. Tina says:

    Quality over quantity! You have 11 apples (well, 9 now) because you wanted exceptional apples! If you didn’t care about the quality, you could have had hundreds.

    PS. The first pic of fantasy you is amazing! Really beautiful!

  44. Robert says:

    Those are some really cute apples and so is the first 3 pictures

  45. Lynn says:

    Karen you may have only harvested 11 apples but they are beautiful apples 🍎. I am sure the squirrels much appreciated your apples 🍎 as they sure harvested enough of them to make their own little apples tarts.

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