Are you thinking of spring today? The @MNMOmag guests are the owners of @sweetlandorchrd in Webster MN, Mike & Gretchen. Let’s go!
Gretchen: Thanks for thinking of us today, @JoelECarlson. For once, we’re in the position of waiting for spring to catch up to us!
How do things look at the orchard this year? Is the late spring causing any ill effects?
Gretchen: We’d take this spring over last spring anytime. A nice & slow warm-up doesn’t put apple blossoms at risk like last year.
. . .not that the trees are close to blossoming at all! They’re definitely biding their time, but they’re going to love this weekend
All of the cold this winter was great too for (hopefully) reducing the insect pest population. Orchardists are happy this year!
When did the orchard get started, and what did you first start with as a crop?
Gretchen: This is our 4th spring at the orchard, but we bought it as an orchard (fka Bob’s Bluebird Orchard)
Ave. age of apple trees is 15 yrs, but one is 35 years old and others are, well, one day old now. We also have pears and plums.
How old do the trees have to be in order to provide usable fruit?
Gretchen: That gets kind of technical, but it depends on the rootstock. Apple trees can be standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf.
The bigger the tree, the longer to production. Standard = 10 yrs, semidwarf = 5-6 yrs, dwarf = 3-4 yrs.
We plant semidwarfs because they seem to do best in our soil. Many orchards plant dwarfs; they’re also great for home orchards.
Pears and plums take longer to bear, thus the saying “pears for heirs.”
On a good year, what kind of volume of fruit can you get from your trees? How many acres do you have?
Gretchen: Volume is another case where rootstock matters. For example, a standard tree could produce 20 bu/yr while a dwarf, more like 2 bu.
We’ve got 5 acres of trees (15 acres of wetlands and woods) & a variety of rootstock, so a good year for us would be 2500 bu.
How do you sell your fruit: farmers market(s), online or can people come to pick on-site?
Gretchen: We love to have people down to the orchard to pick. We’ve got a pretty quiet operation with dogs and chickens for entertainment.
We’ve also started selling hard cider at the orchard, so that’s fun too. Folks pack a picnic and spend a little time in nature
When are you typically open for customers to come and pick?
Gretchen: We’re open for picking on Sat & Sun in Sept & Oct. We’re a small operation — it’s us & our folks & a few friends.
For people thinking about coming to pick this Fall, what varieties of apples, pears and plums do you have?
Gretchen: Oh my, so many varieties. We’ve got the standard MN favorites (Honeycrisp, Haralson, SweeTango, Sweet 16, Keepsake, Honeygold) . . .
But some fun ones too: Scarlet Surprise for novelty, Bonnie Best for pie, and Wolf River for size. Any plum or pear is amazing
@slklug took a great pic of Scarlet Surprise last year: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4106/5069637708_1216b10d01_z.jpg …
What made you (Gretchen & Mike) decide to buy an orchard? Would you change anything after gaining 4yrs of exp?
Gretchen: We wanted to live in the country — and not have to commute to the city. We love living out here, growing apples, raising chickens.
But market farming is tough and our families have done a ton for us.
That’s one reason we’re getting into hard cider — to make our operation more sustainable.
And we’re doing this too because we love to eat good food and we love growing good food.
Any plans for the future of other things you could add to your business?
Gretchen: Future directions? Well, cider-making’s like winemaking in terms of gaining experience over a lifetime.
So we anticipate we’ll spend a lot of time refining our cider-making craft.
Honestly, it will be a joy to concentrate on growing trees and fermenting cider, and doing both the best we can.
Sounds like you have good plans! Thanks to both of you for sharing your story today on #MNMOtv. Enjoy Spring! 🙂
Gretchen: We’re lucky to be doing what we love! Thanks for inviting us to chat today. We think we’ll all finally get to enjoy spring soon!