Yesterday was exciting. I went to a workshop on backyard fruit production put on by the Cornell University Cooperative Extension. It was fascinating, and awesome, and I took lots and lots of notes (and more than a few pictures), made a few good connections, got answers to some questions, and… froze my face off.
Man, it was cold. And I dressed well for the weather. But when you’re standing around for hours outside, and it’s windy, and you can’t put your hands in your pockets because you’re taking notes frantically, 40 degrees seems a lot colder than it usually does. I wasn’t the only one. We were an attractive bunch – bundled up to the gills, noses dripping , eyes watering, huddled around the speaker, shivering as he talked through the details of managing orchard crops and small fruits.
We had a blast. Really! The speaker was so knowledgeable, and it was refreshing to be around so many people who could happily stand around all day talking horticulture and growing techniques. I didn’t have to worry about boring anyone! Not with plant talk anyway. And so many people there were so much farther along than I am, both in plant knowledge and in actual production experience. I feel like I got almost as much information from my fellow attendees as from the speaker.
About the speakers, there were actually two of them. Rick Reisinger is the founder and owner of Reisinger’s Apple Country in Watkins Glen, NY, and the workshop was held at his farm, where he grows everything from apples and peaches to currants and strawberries, mostly for u-pick customers. We split up into two groups for the workshop, and I followed the other presenter, John Reynolds , around the farm. John owns Blackduck Cidery in Ovid, NY, where he makes vinegar and hard cider out of all manner of fruits.
John manages his crops organically (part of the reason I chose his group), while Rick does not. This is partly because Rick grows his fruit for fresh eating, and customers do expect pretty perfect-looking fruit. There are a whole host of viruses, bacteria, pests, and fungi that affect orchard fruit production (orchard fruits are of the hardest crop groups to grow organically!), and a large percent of them cause problems that are purely cosmetic. Meaning they don’t hurt the tree or the crop, but your fruit might look a little funny, or might not last as long in storage as it should. If you’re growing fruit for processing, it’s much easier to grow organically, because the end customer is not going to see cosmetic imperfections, and the grower can concentrate his efforts on controlling only those pests and diseases that could actually harm the tree or the crop. Now of course there are growers out there who do produce organic orchard crops for fresh eating, and who do it very well, but it’s a tricky business.
Anyway, I ended up following John around, because I’m interested in organic fruit production, and I had some idea of how tricky orchard crops can be, so I really wanted to learn all I could. And I learned a lot! So much so that I wanted to do a short series on the blog featuring my notes from today, in case anyone else is interested in a primer on backyard fruit production.
The main fruits I’ll be covering are apples, peaches, pears, and plums. There will also be some information on strawberries, blueberries, raspberries (summer and fall-bearing), and currants (red, white, and black). I’ll probably combine these last four into a single post, since I have less detailed notes on them. I wish I had information on cherries! Maybe I’ll do some of my own research and add that to this series as well.
Benaiah and I are planning on going to more of the CCE workshops, since this one was so clearly worth it. My fellow attendees also recommended a few books, YouTube channels, and websites that I’ll be looking into, and I’ll update the blog with anything that seems worth passing on. I want to play my part in making information about good, sustainable farming and gardening practices more widely available. I hope this series is useful to some of you. Let me know your thoughts in the comments as we go along – would you like to see more series like this? Are there topics/crops you’d like me to cover?