LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — June and Milton Finster sought out Lewiston, looking at taxes and utilities, and overall cost of living.
But mostly they were looking for the right climate. "We wanted something we could live with year-round," June said.
Longtime residents of Milwaukee, Wis., and relative newlyweds of four years, Milt was tired of shoveling snow and June was ready to go with him. With her son in Arizona and her daughter in California, and his sons in Wisconsin and Texas, they figured they had a lot of potential geography to explore.
They looked in Walla Walla first, but in 1983 everything there seemed to be geared toward rentals to accommodate three colleges and a prison. They decided to try Lewiston, where they had friends who offered them a base to stay and explore from.
It was their last day in town when they saw the advertisement for a ranch-style house along Hemlock
Avenue. There were two problems: viewing was by appointment only, and it had a young orchard of 150 trees, most of them peaches. She said it would give him something to do in retirement. He said no way.
They compromised. They drove by, liked the looks and rang the doorbell.
Almost before they knew it, they were orchardists.
Finsters' Peach Orchard quickly made a name for itself. People would come from all around, June said, and one year they sold two tons of peaches to the old Yoke's grocery store.
Most of the trees were J.H. Hales, with a few Elbertas, plus apples, apricots, plums, walnuts, filberts, grapes and, of course, the garden. If it could be grown, and sometimes even if it couldn't, they gave it a try. They didn't have any luck with peanuts, June said, and the asparagus bed took too much time. "We had so many other thing to do besides that," Milt said.
A granddaughter once counted 26 different things growing.
She had told him the orchard was his job, but she helped some, June said. Peaches had to be thinned to about six inches apart with nothing on the ends of the branches because their wood is soft and will break, Milt said. They pruned and sprayed, and during harvest, she drove the tractor with a trailer full of boxes. He would pick and she would sort.
Peaches don't take as much work as apples, Milt said. They have a shorter growing season and don't have to be sprayed quite as often.
Their apples were hit this year with a new pest, San Jose scale. It's a microscopic insect that is visible under a microscope, and some people here had never seen before, even at the county extension office.
Agriculture oil spray applied in the early spring is the only way to control it, June said. Milt uses that in the spring and a fixed copper solution in the fall, plus Imodan in the summer because it's less toxic than some of the others, he said.
They missed that critical spring spray this year because life got in the way. The apples also took another hit - no pun intended - from the late July hail storm that split some of the fruit.
At their "new" home where they've lived the past 20 years, they planted two Ida Red apple trees, a variety they first met in Wisconsin. "It's a little on the tart side, and that's what we prefer," June said. It also bears early and heavily and has a long shelf life, according to a 1974 University of Idaho extension bulletin. On the downside, it was considered susceptible to mildew and fire blight.
The Finsters have picked 400 pounds off one tree in a season, and have no complaints.
They have three peach trees, two Hales and a Red Globe that is the pollinator but also provides good fruit. They planted a Tilton apricot and pruned an old President plum that continues to bear well.
They have harvested 21/2-pound Red Pontiac potatoes. Their answer to a surplus is to take it to the Idaho State Veterans Home in Lewiston or the food bank.
In retirement, they fished for steelhead, kokanee and walleye. They hunted, harvesting two elk and several deer. They cut their own firewood.
"How we did all that and still ran the orchard, I don't know," Milt said.
She learned to can, and when they decided in 1991 there was more work than money in an orchard, they retired again. When they moved that time to four-tenths of an acre along 18th Street, they took more than 400 jars of home-canned fruits, meats, vegetables, juices and nectars with them, plus a full freezer and 27 gallons of wine.
She prefers to cook her apples with the peel on, then put them through a food mill. The skin adds flavor, she said.
Her applesauce is pale, not much darker than a fresh apple, and the apricots are like unblemished golden globes in the tightly packed jars.
When she freezes apples for pies, she crushes the Vitamin C tablets in a couple of tablespoons of water and mixes that with the sliced fruit. After two years in the freezer, they remain a creamy white. She thaws them in the bag, either on the counter or in the microwave. As long as the bag isn't opened, the apples look like they were just peeled, she said.
They came up with that idea after reading labels in the grocery store and realizing the vitamin contained the same ingredient as the more expensive ascorbic acid sold specifically for canning.
They say now at 94 and 87 they've slowed down some, but they still fish and recently returned from a trip to Arizona for a granddaughter's wedding.
They eat well, mostly from what they grow.
"When we raise food, we know what we're eating," Milt said. "I'd say we're about 90 percent organic, no pesticides." He also seeks out organic seed that hasn't been genetically modified, "and that's becoming more scarce, too."
They do a lot of companion planting, using plants like onions and garlic to keep pests away from the tomatoes. Some weeks their trip to the grocery store is only for milk and bread.
"I guess you call it the fruits of our labor," Milt said.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com