A bit south of the pretty little town of Occidental, in the forested hills that are increasingly cleared for vineyards, there is an oasis of history, a two-acre orchard of 200 apple trees and 100 pear trees.
Yet Bella Ridge, as both the orchard and the region are known, is not a heritage farm. Ted Richardson, who teaches reading at Salmon Creek Elementary School, began planting his trees just 12 years ago, when he and his wife, Michele Larkin, who teaches Spanish at El Molino High School, moved here from Graton.
He is still planting.
“There are seven vineyards on Taylor Lane. We’re the only orchard,” he says.
His main focus, his passion, is for preserving a wide variety of apples.
For everyone who mourns the loss of west county apple orchards, this is heartening news.
Bella Ridge began attending three farmers markets just three weeks ago. The season will wrap up at Thanksgiving.
In mid-September, the apple varieties that ripened in August–Gravenstein, Akane, Sansa and Pink Pearl–are nearly finished. September ripeners include Macintosh, Gala, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Hawaii, Ashmead’s Kernel, Ribston Pippin and Spartan, with Mutsu, Liberty, Piñata, Spigold, Ambrosia, Grimes Golden and Gilbert Gold coming off the trees in both September and OCtober.
October’s harvest is the biggest, with large quantities of Macoun, Northern Spy, Fuji and Cameo and smaller numbers of Empire, Cortland, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Yellow Bellflower, Braeburn, Winesap, Sierra Beauty, Bell de Boskoop, Roxbury Russet, Baldwin, Rhode Island Greening, Spitzenberg and Idared .
The season wraps up in November with Pink Lady, Gold Rush, Black Twig, Arkansas Black, White Winter Permain, Granny Smith, Lady and Hauer Pippin, which Slow Food has taken onto its Ark of Taste.
Some of these varieties are available for just a week, others last a month and longer.
Pears are primarily an October crop, as they must spend a bit of time off the tree before they are ready for the market, though several Asian pears are ready now. This month, look for five Asian varieties–Hosui, 20th Century, Shinseiki, Kikusui and Kosui–and one European variety, Seckel.
In October, two Asian varieties, Tsu Li and Ya Li ripen, along with Taylor’s Gold, a European variety.
Several other varieties ripen through October and November, including the Asian varieties Atago, Shinko and Olympic . Four European varieties ripen at this time, as well, and we can finally enjoy the Comice, Bosc, Warren and the highly prized French Butter pear.
The Warren pear is similar to the more family Comice, Richardson says, adding that it has beaten perfectly ripened Comice in several blind tastings.
Bella Ridge also has seven pluot trees, though they have not been as uniformly successful as the apples and pears. It is too cool an area for some of them. Additionally, they ripen in the summer, when Richardson and Larkin want a bit of time off. In successful harvests, they’ve sold the fruit to Santa Rosa’s Community Market and Sheldon’s Market in Healdsburg, where you can also find their apples and pears.
Bella Ridge has been certified organic since 2008 and was registered organic before then. It’s a challenge to farm apples and pears organically, Richardson says, and he has planted a number of disease-resistant varieties, including Liberty, from Cornell University. He’s also been able to control apple worms with pheromones. He has noticed a significant increase in demand for organic apples since the release of the 2013 “Dirty Dozen”, which put apples at the top of the list of produce contaminated by residual pesticides.
Bella Ridge, founded in 2001 and owned and operated by Ted Richardson and Michele Larkin, attends the Occidental Farmers Market on Friday, the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Saturday and Sebastopol Farmers Market on Sunday. The best way to place a special order is at one of these markets.