This winter and spring, we’ve been busy getting ready for the pick-your-own season, which will start with strawberries at the end of May or beginning of June, depending on weather and ripening. Here’s a brief overview of what we’ve been doing this winter and early spring as we await pick-your-own.
Installing Deer Fencing
Getting posts in place for our new deer fencing.
Justin Weaver, our production manager, explains why it is so important to install deer fencing:
“We have been continually trying to add more deer fence every year, when possible. Deer can cause a lot of problems. Not only will they eat the fruit and leaves, they eat the fruit buds during the winter time. In this way, a deer could eat hundreds of apples in one night by eating the buds in the winter time.
“As many people know, the buck will also rub trees in the fall, but even the doe can be fairly destructive on young trees, breaking branches to try to pull down the most tender leaves, sometimes on small trees even breaking off the whole tree.
“They also love strawberry leaves in the fall, so these pictures show us adding some fence by the strawberry fields.
“Some people will notice that the deer will still walk down the road to come around the fence. Unfortunately, we can’t completely enclose the whole farm all in one year, but we keep working on it little by little as we are able. We have still seen significant improvements over the last few years in reducing the number of deer coming into the orchard and the amount of time they spend in the orchard.”
Sweeping brush out from under the trees with the loader and chopping brush with the tractor.
Justin Weaver explains the process of chopping brush:
“After we prune the trees, we go through with the loader and brush sweeper to sweep the brush out from under the trees into the middle of the row, then we come through with the tractor and chopper to grind up the branches into smaller pieces.
“The goal is to put the nutrients and carbon that are in the branches back into the soil. It also improves soil structure and slows erosion and water runoff. Essentially, the goal is to recycle those nutrients and carbon, though it can take a few years for them to fully break down.”
Planting New Trees, Removing Old Ones
More on this from Justin Weaver:
“Most every year we plant some new trees and remove some old trees. Sometimes this is more visible than others, depending on where on the farm it happens. Peach trees have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, while apples can have a lifespan of 20 to 40 years. On average, we figure an expected lifespan of 20 years for our trees; therefore we need to average planting 5% of our farm every year and removing 5% of the oldest or least productive trees every year.
“That said, we do have some apple trees that are around 35 years old and some pear trees that are even older than that.”
We also consider whether we should replace older trees with new dwarfing trees. These smaller trees are not only easier for our customers (and us!) to pick from, they’re easier to prune and maintain. They also tend to produce better quality fruit, Justin explains, “due to less shading and better sun and air movement with in the trees.”
We also consider which varieties our customers will want more of in the coming years. Justin notes, “the preferred apple varieties have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.”
All together, these factors mean that “we have been on a slightly accelerated replant schedule the last few years,” says Justin.
As we remove the trees, we are beginning to experiment with grinding the trees in the field. “Our neighbors, Plow Farms, have a tree grinder on their loader and they were willing to do that for us,” says Justin. “The goal is the same as with the branches after pruning, to recycle the carbon and nutrients from the trees back into the soil.”