By Andrew Campbell
There isn’t much of a better fall food than an apple. The crunch when you bite into one, the smell of a warm pie, the excitement of heading to the orchard for an afternoon of picking. When it comes to getting that apple ready for you, there is a pile of work that goes into making the best apple possible. Whether that is trimming trees in the dead of winter, rushing to protect the delicate flowers from a harsh frost or even building up the supports for a brand new orchard, it’s all in a day’s work for the Stevens family and their hard-working team. So come along and see just what it takes to give that apple the perfect crunch!
What kind of apples do you grow on Wilmot Orchards?
Wilmot Orchards has nine different varieties, but 80% of the orchard is comprised of three different varieties: Honey Crisp, Gala and the all Canadian apple called Ambrosia. The Ambrosia was found in nature in Canada. So, it’s truly a Canadian apple and it is a very hard and sweet apple.
What major activities are involved in growing apples?
There are 75 different diseases and insects that can attack an apple. Protecting the apple crop is very scientific and requires a lot of knowledge about the crop protection materials that are used on the orchard. Crop protection starts first thing in the spring, when the little buds break, right through until harvest time. The biggest jobs on the orchard are pruning and harvesting, which are done by hand. Pruning takes place in January and the apples are harvested in July and August. There are close to 100,000 trees at Wilmot Orchard.
Why is pruning apple trees so important?
Pruning the trees helps to manage the amount of apples that the trees produce each year. There would be a lot of tiny apples if apple trees were left to grow unpruned and every bloom was pollinated. Plus next year the trees wouldn’t have as many or any blooms because all the energy would have gone into producing apples from the year before. So it is important to prune, otherwise, the crop would only produce small apples every two years. Typically, apple farmers only leave 10% of the blooms to grow so they have nice sized apples and maintain the tree for several years.
How do you plant an orchard of apple trees?
Farmers use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to plant the trees which allows them to plant the trees closer together to maximize land use and to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.
With this advance in farming technology, farmers have gone from planting 100 trees per acre over 20 years ago to 500 trees per acre 10-15 years ago. And now farmers plant up to 1000 trees per acre.
How long do apple orchards last?
To be profitable, an apple orchard must last for at least 20 to 25 years to cover all the expenses associated with growing apples. Farmers must also plan ahead to stay on top of what consumers are looking for and what the marketplace will demand over that period of time. This can be challenging as consumers are always looking for something new.
What risks are associated with growing apples? How do farmers deal with them?
Mother Nature is a farmer’s biggest risk. If there is a year with not enough water, then apple farmers would need to irrigate using pond, stream or well water.
If farmers have a year with too much water, then they put tile drainage in to take that excess water away. Trees that sit in too much water, wouldn’t have any oxygen to the roots, and oxygen is necessary for that tree to live.
Farmers use frost fans in the spring to protect the blossoms from frost damage. If the temperature goes down to minus two or three degrees Celsius, farmers risk losing their whole crop as the frost will kill the blossoms. The fans blow air through the trees which helps prevent frost.
Farmers also have hail cannons that help to keep the hail from ruining an apple crop. An entire crop of apples can be lost after two minutes of hail.
Farmers also do a significant amount of research in all aspects of the business, from growing methods to new technologies to market research. This is important not only to grow the best apples but to protect their investment. A farmer would not want to plant an apple that in five or six years was no longer popular in the marketplace. Seventeen years ago, Wilmot Orchards researched Honeycrisp apples and took a risk to grow them. Luckily, this has paid off as Honeycrisp apples are still a popular variety.
How does a hail cannon work?
A hail cannon makes a sound wave. Sound waves can go up to 30 to 40,000 feet into the atmosphere and will carry positive ions. A hailstone is made up of a positive ion, a negative ion and a piece of dust in the right atmospheric conditions. So if there are excess positive ions up in that atmosphere, it won’t hail.
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