These days, we have been focusing on dormant pruning, taking advantage of every possible day the weather permits. Pruning is an important part of orchard maintenance to maintain the structure, health and productivity of the trees.
A labour of a thousand cuts
And then there's the clean-up...
That sprawling heap of branches is a by-product of our annual dormant pruning efforts! We pick up the cuttings under the trees as pruning progresses, pile them onto a wagon and haul them over to the brush pile.
In fact, the brush pile in this photo is showing only some of the cuttings from one year's pruning effort...the dark circle of ashes in front left was from approved open-air burnings we did on days that were windstill and damp. Of course, we notify the local fire department each time so they can authorize the burn! It's all about responsible farming stewardship.
The budding promise
And there they are! Still-dormant fruit buds waiting for the spring sun and warmth to coax them into developing lovely fragrant apple blossoms! With good weather, proper pollination and further protection from pests and disease, they will grow into beautiful apples.
There's lots more orchard work to come during the rest of the growing season till we get there...Be sure to come back and see us during the fall harvest to see how these little buds came along!
Our Apple Butter has a tangy flavour and full-bodied apple sweetness that pairs beautifully with cheese whether as a condiment on a cheese plate or -- as in this case -- baked together in a delectable combo! Try this new twist on the classic grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, lunch or snack!
This is an easy-to-make snack that both kids and adults enjoy! The combination of our Apple Butter with its tangy flavour and full-bodied apple sweetness, paired with crispy tortilla chips lightly seasoned with sugar and cinnamon is -- well -- totally 'apple-tizing'! Our Apple Butter is made without added sugar and the tortilla chips are baked fat-free, so it's a healthy treat too!
Buying from a small local farm helps you connect with your food and the farmer growing it.
We sell all our apples straight from our farm to consumers either through our Pick-Your-Own or at our farm store, so we have lots of conversations with our customers about how our crop is doing and how we care for the orchard and our apples.
About our orchard
Our main orchard on 5 acres is made up of 1100 mature trees and 200 young trees we planted to replace ones that are no longer healthy and productive. Our trees are semi-standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf types that grow 5 to 15 feet tall. We prune them annually to maintain their structure, health and productivity, paying special attention to encourage apples within easy reach for pick-your-own visitors of all ages including kids. Larger commercial apple orchards have moved to densely-planted spindle trees grown along trellis and wires for maximum efficiency and production. We have stayed with traditional free-standing trees to provide a more traditional orchard setting and fun pick-your-own experience.
In 2009, we purchased more farmland to increase our capacity. After improving the land with drainage, clearing and tillage, we started planting young trees and our new orchard is now up to 900 trees, some of which are now starting to produce apples.
Do you spray? Are you organic?
...Sounds like the same question, right?? Wrong!! In fact, organic and conventional farming practices are converging to maximize food production and social good while minimizing negative impacts to the environment and the consumer. Read on to learn more...
A lot has changed...
In response to concerns about environmental impacts and concerns about pesticide use, conventional farming methods have changed a lot over the past 20 to 30 years. An example of this is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Like organic farming, IPM strives to work with natural controls as much as possible, using pesticides only when other control methods aren't effective. Although many consumers believe that organically-grown produce has not been sprayed, the real difference is that organic growers use only naturally-derived pesticides and chemicals while conventional farming includes synthetic products. With IPM adoption many conventional farmers are using less pesticide and a 2008 survey conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture found that pesticide application dropped by 45 percent since 1983.
Our approach to sustainable farming
We use a blend of organic and conventional methods:
Come see for yourself!
Over the years, we have welcomed thousands of families, couples and groups visiting our farm from the Kingston area as well as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
We work hard to provide a well-maintained orchard, quality fruit and a hands-on apple-picking experience that provides fun and learning for all.
Our Pick-Your-Own starts early September and runs until about middle of October (while there are still enough apples on the trees!)
This customer was astonished...
A few years ago, a woman called me from somewhere in Northeastern United States. She had bought some apples from us during a vacation in Ontario and raved about them being most amazing apple she had ever tasted - she just had to call us to find out what unique variety it was.
Based on her description of the apple and the time of her visit, I was able to tell her that she had bought a bag of our McIntosh apples. She was absolutely astonished and it took some convincing to help her realize that it was indeed the good old 'Mac' that had blown her away!
Take a bite from Apple Inc's slogan and "think differently" about this true Ontario apple!
This is not an isolated story. While many of our existing customers love the Macs, just as many new ones come into our store saying 'I hate Macs'. We just say 'Here try one’ -- the fact is they have never tasted this fabulous apple when it’s fresh-picked. Once they do, many wonder out loud why the ones they buy in the grocery stores are so disappointing, even when they are sold as ‘new crop’ apples in the fall.
Learn why the McIntosh apple deserves our love and respect! It traces its roots to a tree found by John McIntosh growing wild in 1811 on his farm in the eastern Ontario hamlet of Dundela, about 70 km southeast of Ottawa. To this day Canada is known around the world for this great variety of apple.
So what's a McIntosh?
Top 3 ways to enjoy a Mac!
Here's some more neat facts about the McIntosh apple:
Drop by our Apple farm this September when the Macs are ready and taste what you've been missing!
Mother Nature is amazing
As explained by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Mother Nature has an remarkable way to move trees into dormancy and preparing them for extremely cold temperatures. Amazingly, the plant tissue actually moves water from inside its cells into the spaces between the cells. Why? So that the ice crystals don't damage the cell walls and to allow the cells contents to become denser and actually reduce their freezing point, similar to anti-freeze. By mid to late January trees have reached their maximum cold hardiness which is normally when we have reached the coldest winter days.
Late in the dormant season is when we prune our trees to help shape and invigorate the trees for the coming growing season. We use both air-powered pruning equipment and hand shears. However this winter the extreme cold and deep snow delayed our start of winter pruning later than usual -- plus it’s best to delay pruning to early spring when the risk of severe temperature drops has diminished to reduce the risk of winter injury.
Mother Nature can also be unforgiving
Most apple trees are very tolerant to even extreme cold up to -30C when they are in full dormancy, especially if stays consistently cold and without erratic temperature swings. Remember the winter of 2012? An unseasonably warm winter followed by cold snaps in late spring devastated the apple harvest in most parts of Ontario as well as the northeastern United States. The Kingston Whig Standard visited us to learn how local apple crops were affected.
So far this winter, we haven’t had any ‘January thaw’, which is actually a good thing. Still, winter injury or cold damage can can reduce yields, kill the tree immediately, or cause a shorter tree life expectancy by making the tree more susceptible to pests (ie. cankers and borers). This type of damage won’t be visible until the growing season starts.
During the long hard winter deer, rabbits and even field mice (i.e. ‘voles’) are looking for food; nice apple tree bark or tender buds make a tasty treat. In 2014 a high vole population coupled with a cold winter and deep snow resulted in extensive damage in some orchards. These rodents tunneled up around the base of the trees to the top of the snow layer -- which was so deep that it reached higher than the guards around the trees. They nibbled the bark off and sometimes even girdled all the way around the trunk which is an injury that a tree cannot survive. Last year we caught this emerging problem later in the winter and rushed to put an extra guard on above the first to protect our little trees up as high as possible. In preparation for this winter, we bought even more guards and tried to make sure all of our younger trees were protected.
What's Mother Nature bringing us next?
So what does the Old Farmer’s Almanac tell us to expect for the upcoming spring?
Hope springs eternal
Hmmm….Well farmers are eternally optimistic so here’s what we’re hoping for as our growing season approaches:
This easy-to-make recipe gives you a moist and juicy tenderloin with its own sauce and condiment all in one!
Makes enough stuffing for a 10 - 12 pound turkey; can be halved for a 4 - 6 pound chicken, or doubled for a large turkey.
* To roast garlic, slice about 1/2 inch off top of each head of garlic to expose tops of cloves. Remove outer layers of papery skin from heads. Place, cut side up, in small baking dish; drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in 350F oven for about 45 minutes or until very soft. Squeeze out the softened garlic.
This is a great fall recipe! Easy to make and with slight sweetness from the apple cider and apples that is complemented by the bay leaves and spices. Serve with mashed potatoes.
Apple & Beef Stew
Sharing our insights as local apple growers and business owners. Helping folks appreciate and enjoy our farm-fresh experiences, perspectives and products!