Jim and Kari Lane are an important part of the success of Apple Lane Orchards. They help with apple sales and tree pruning, and yes, they pick and bag apples for their family stand on Alamo Pintado Road.
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Autumn finds the friendly Lane family welcoming apple lovers to their orchards. From left, Kari, Peggy, David and Jim Lane.
The sign on Alamo Pintado Road is tempting; pick your own apples, 89 cents a pound. The sign, word of mouth, and repeat customers bring steady business to Apple Lane Farm, the family owned orchard in Solvang, which provides not only apples for the community, but also an education in apple growing for children in the local schools.
Peggy Lane, her veterinarian husband David, who works at the Solvang Veterinary Clinic, and their children Kari, 16 and Jim, 13, have all invested significant effort in the family orchard. The Lanes bought the six acre farm twelve years ago when they moved to Solvang from Santa Barbara. Five years after the purchase, they replanted 700 trees, resulting in a current total of 1400 Gala, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith apple trees.
The work involved in keeping up the apple orchard is enormous enough to warrant a team of laborers, but, according to Peggy Lane, "we really do most of it all by ourselves. My husband always had interest in farming. He grew up in Colorado and he graduated from Kansas State University, so he's always been around farmers. We moved here because it was his dream to start an apple farm."
The Lane's idyllic life is plagued with the usual problems; "we have to protect our trees against gophers and deer which is a particular challenge," says Lane, "because we don't use pesticides. We live in the orchard, so it's very important for us to take good care of the trees without bringing in toxins." And of course, the Lanes want to sell toxin-free apples.
To solve the insect problem, the Lanes use pheromone strips, "which are rather new, and relatively effective," Peggy Lane notes. Essentially, the pheromone strips interrupt the mating cycle of the coddling moths. Coddling moths are the source of worms in apples.
Lane, who leads many tours of the apple orchard for local school children, likes to explain how the pheromones work in the context of the popular preschool book, The Hungry Caterpillar. "The book starts out with a line about how, in the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf, the sun came out, and out popped a tiny worm. So I tell them that a little egg lay on my apple and out popped a little caterpillar who was so hungry that he went into the middle of the apple and ate all the core, then he grew until he came out as a big, fat caterpillar, and he spun a cocoon and took a name and when he woke up, out came a grey coddling moth who quickly flew away. The girl coddling mothers looked for boy moths because they wanted to get married, but we tricked them."
The Lanes trick the moths by putting out the pheromone strips which confuse the moth's sense of smell, which is how they find the opposite sex. "The girl moths can only smell other girl moths, so they also fly away; and when the boy moths can't find any girls, they fly away, so we don't have any more eggs which means we don't have any more worms." While Lane has no plans as of yet to write a children's book, she certainly has enough material to publish The Confused Coddling Moth.
With 1400 trees in the orchard, thousands of apples are produced annually but Lane admits that it is hard to calculate an exact number. But her surplus goes to good causes.
"I do school tours in a big way, in which children pick apples and learn the growth cycle of tree, what happens during the four seasons. They help me harvest apples and everyone takes apples home." Lane also contributes apples to the Santa Barbara County Public Library system's reading program. "The slogan is, 'Be a bookworm, eat an apple,' and prizes are given for every 15 and 30 books that children read in a two month period." Lane gives out over three thousand coupons for free bags of apples, from Solvang to Carpinteria.
A one-woman tour-de-force in Apple Awareness, Lane also helps kindergartners and grade school children celebrate Johnny Appleseed's September 26th birthday by helping them make Apple Pigs; apple heads and bodies, toothpick legs, and pipe cleaner tails.
Lane owns a special bakery-style commercial apple peeler which makes the peeling job so much easier, and she shares her industrial appliance with senior citizens at Valley Haven and young people at the Presbyterian Church's youth group, where she leads "Apple Crisp Workshops," in which everyone makes apple crisp to take home.
"Apple Crisp is a national joke at our house," Lane admits. "I have a special recipe and I make it a lot, and so does my daughter Kari. We always have to make extra portions because it disappears so fast, and because I give Apple Crisps to banks, church potlucks and other community organizations."
Not only is Lane's own Apple Crisp popular in the valley, her recipe for the dessert, published in the Apple Lane flier, is in demand as well. "I used to make apple pies, but to make a really good crust was so much work, and it's really not that healthy. But everyone seems to love Apple Crisp as much, or more, than pies."
Apple desserts aren't the only way the Lane family consumes apples. "I must have 20 apple cookbooks," says Lane. "I use apples every possible way. In addition to apple cakes, and apple cookies, I make apple chicken, apple pork chops and apple rice. My daughter loves apple pancakes, so I make those a lot. I also make apple syrup. But really, my family could eat Apple Crisp every day of the week.
It's surprising that Peggy Lane has time to spend baking considering the amount of work required in the orchard. "The biggest job is pruning," she says, "which takes twenty to thirty minutes per tree, and with fourteen hundred trees that makes 700 hours a year."
And most often, the Lane family, including Jim and Kari who help out with sales, does it by themselves. Each tree has its own sprinkler, from an irrigation system that was put in 12 years ago, "but we have to continually have to check it to make sure the sprinklers aren't plugged up and that the gophers haven't eaten into hose. There are always leaks to repair."
The only other problem, besides leaking irrigation systems and moth producing worms, are trespassers. Visitors are not welcome when the orchard is closed (hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and they are even less welcome to help themselves to apples.
Aside from the obvious trespassing violation, "people tend to pick the wrong apples when they're unsupervised," says Lane. "We have five different kinds of apples that ripen at different times." Galas are at their peak in August, Golden and Red Delicious are in their prime in September, Fiji's are best in October, and Granny Smith's come into their own in October and November. "Right around Halloween," says Lane, "the Granny Smith's have a higher sugar content which gives them a tart zing. That's when they're really good!" She hates to see an apple eaten before its time. "It's truly a shame," says Lane. " Apples really are wonderful."
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