Tell us about your growing philosophy
Being a slow learner, my greatest role in orchard management is observation, tweaked with innovation, both from fellow growers and intuition. Of course no answers come to me without going through the 'committee', the trees. I try my best to be conscious of all of the good organisms that live at and below the tree canopy and to be aware how my actions affect the whole, and that includes me and those I care most about.
Tell us about your place on Earth.
If Illinois were pregnant, my orchard would be across the Mississippi, where the belly button goes. My soil is a wind-blown loess, deposited at the time of the receding glaciers. We grow a dozen varieties of apples, chosen for; ripening sequence, personal favorites, a few commercial interests and disease resistance. Our USDA zone is 6b verging on 5a. We average about 100 trees per acre, some too close together and some too far apart. Not having previous apple growing experience 'enhances' the growing experience.
What draws you to growing fruit?
If anyone has ever read Thoureau's Walden, that is the experience in having one's own orchard. I'm sure aspects of gardening have the same attributes, just not the permanence of trees. I see the changes, not just each season, but over time. I get to spend about ten months of my year in the orchard. That sounds like a real job, but what is work but play for adults. Choose ones play with care.
innovation most rocks your boat?
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.... must cogitate. I like what I see so far.
What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?
As I was in a hurry to get the trees into the ground, I should have spent more time building the soil. At the time, the farm to me was new, having never farmed, only gardened, so I was anxious to get started growing apples. However, the trees were more willing to give their fruit before I understood all their needs. Learning to grow apples is like a really good hike, with all the attributes and aches. Needless to say, the learning curve is great, but what a view!
How do you go about marketing the good fruit?
Marketing the good fruit is easy! The non-perfect fruit is the challenge. Our orchard has a state inspected processing kitchen that produces apple butter, apple sauce, apple syrup (Pomona's Ambrosia)™, Apple cider vinegar, Habanero vinegar, apple cider (sweet), and other value added products, and the facility is certified organic. The kitchen also serves our vegetable garden and is an essential part of our orchard/ farm profile.