Reports from Stacy, Cottonwood Farm’s Orchardist
If you are interested in reading more about what goes on in Cottonwood’s apple orchard, please continue to visit our website. Stacy updates the orchard web page regularly. Or, for up-to-date orchard information, like us on Facebook.
July - October 2016
Cottonwood Farm had its first sour cherry crop this year. Each tree was netted to protect the cherries from the birds. Harvesting cherries is such a chore that I am thankful we only have 50 cherry trees. I crawl up inside of the net and use a scissors to remove the ripe cherries. Cherries don’t ripen all at once, so you have to go back several days to finish an entire tree.
In addition to a first cherry harvest, our apple orchard exceeded our expectations in apple output this late summer and fall. Our young trees provided Dan and I with an ample amount of apples to continue experimenting with making hard cider and perfecting our techniques. I ate a lot of apples too.
I’m not a bug expert, but I’m thinking this is a Cercopia Caterpillar. I saw him hanging out on a Zestar apple tree enjoying a sunny day. I checked on this beauty a week later and it had made its cocoon.
All around the farmyard and in the orchard there are all different types of mushroom villages popping up. I’ve read that mushrooms act like sponges and soak up fungus from other plants like apple trees, preventing plants from being infected with ailments like apple scab and other fungus problems. Mushrooms can indicate that you are being a good steward of the soil. How cool is that!
Greg the Orchard Dog spent a lot of time in the orchard this year. He likes to taste the apples to check to see if they are ready for harvest.
The newly planted trees are doing well. I’m seeing a lot of new growth in the orchard. Plans have been made to add more apple trees in 2017 and 2018. Our goal is to plant more antique apple cultivars to diversify the orchard and add to our cider’s flavor. I’m also excited about getting the chance to grow apple varieties that have virtually disappeared from people’s minds and store shelves. Check out the Meet Our Apples section in our website to learn about the new apples cultivars we have coming to us in 2017 and 2018.
A foggy fall day in the orchard. The trees are ready for their winter rest. So are we. We can’t rest for too long, pruning begins in a couple of month
May & June 2016
We’ve been busy! Over 600 trees have been planted. It took less
than 5 days. We had perfect weather and a more than perfect tree
planting crew this year. All in all, tree planting went smoother and
quicker than anticipated. The new trees are sure pretty!
New trees. Wrapped up
tight and still asleep.
Chuck digging holes. That Dan's co-worker, Bob and his
auger is 24” wide. son helped us plan the trees.
Now that the new trees have been planted, our attention has turned to caring for all 1,495 trees. Dan and I are spraying the trees with an OMRI approved fish fertilizer. It smells like one of those fish gut house on a hot day. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! I should mention that Dan and I both hate fish. This undertaking is truly being done out of love and dedication for our trees. I am also going to mention that not only are the trees getting coated with fish water, so are we. I’m gonna say it again. Yuck!
Dan spraying the trees with fish fertilizer. I’m on the 4-wheeeler trying to stay out of the way of the fishy drift of fish yuckiness.
Most trees are growing. Great things cause our hard work and spraying fish juice is producing some good results. We do still have some trees that I am thinking might need to be replaced. Sometimes you have to let go of what is out of your power to fix. Put your energy into what can become a fruitful tree.
Wonderful apples getting bigger. This is a State Fair tree. Last year,
we started picking State Fair apples the last week of August.
This is a first for us. Cherries!
Our cherry trees our gifting
us with fruit this year. We
netted most of the trees, but
did leave some un-netted for
the birds. Birds love
World’s happiest orchard dog, Greg!
March & April 2016
The huge update to report from the orchard is that the pruning is done! It took 2 weeks, working 8 hours each day to prune 800 trees. Everyday, I bundled up in full winter gear and set out with my branch lopper, shear and Greg the dog for company. Starting out, I was nervous to make the initial cuts because pruning should be done with intention and care. I believe in this philosophy because I’ve learned removing a branch effects the future life of a tree. In addition to believing in being intentional with my cuts, I’ve become attached to my trees, and I take being their caretaker an extremely serious. I feel very responsible for my trees. Yep, they’ve become my leafy kids! Half way through pruning I did become more confident with my snips. By the end of this task, I could size up a tree’s pruning needs with a couple of up and down looks while I walked around the tree. Picture this, a shaggy haired person seating in a barbershop chair. The barber holding their chin in a completive gaze looks at the mop-top from top to bottom making notes on how to remedy the hairy situation. This image is the perfect way to describe my movements and thoughts as I stood evaluating each tree’s impending haircut strategy. At first, breathing in at the start of the pruning assessment. Lastly, breathing out after making the finishing cuts.
I filled many of buckets Here I am happy to
with branches. It’s best show off my last bucket
to remove the branches of tree clippings.
to discourage pests that
like to eat live tree wood.
Not only did tree pruning give me the opportunity to practice being intentional, I was also able to get a really good look at the health of the trees. I have an idea of what the 2016 harvest is looking like. I’m seeing a lot of fruit buds this year! If the weather doesn’t throw to many wrenches into the growing season this year, we should be picking, eating, juicing, and fermenting apples in the fall. Our trees are still small and do have a few more years to grow until they have matured enough to be in full production. Still, I’m encouraged by what I am seeing out there in the orchard. Each tree cultivar is on its own schedule of awaking. You can tell which of our tree cultivars are our early bloomers and which cultivars are late bloomers just by looking at their buds. For months, I’ve been watching the tree buds grow from a hard closed dormant shape, to just beginning to show a bit of green on their tips.
Seeing bud break in the orchard signals that winter work should be done and that our thoughts and actions should switch to spring tasks. Tasks that include, preparing the orchard and machinery for apple tree planting in May and unpacking the irrigation system from winter storage to name just a few. There’s also a lot of planning, researching and list making being done right now. I keep a whiteboard with a list of chores written on it hung on my office wall to ensure that I stay on task and that all jobs get done. It’s not unusual for me to wake up in the morning and go to my whiteboard first thing and add a new job that my brain cooked up while I was asleep the night before. This “nighttime cooking and subsequent list making” might sound a little high-strung to some but it’s a system that works for me. Right now, my list of tasks isn’t getting any smaller. After one job gets erased, it’s not unusual to write-in and exchange it with a new chore or chores. But hey, at least we are busy!
My list of chores, never-ending
but helps to keeps me organized.
January & February 2016
We haven’t had a lot of snow this winter, but there has been some
fairly windy days. I am able to go out to the orchard unless the wind
prohibits me making the trek and being outside. Greg, my dog no
matter what the weather is like outside stills loves to run and run and
run and then run and run some more in the orchard. Sometimes he’ll
be speeding by and then, SPLAT, he’ll plow head first into a
snowdrift. He’s also gotten really good at jumping straight up into
the air as he catches snowballs. If he’s not running around like an
absolute crazy dog, he’s asking me to throw snowballs for him.
Greg loves the snow!
In between snowball throwing, I am able to get some tree pruning
practice in. What’s tree pruning practice? Imagine this, me going
from tree to tree, quizzing myself on which branch to cut off from the
tree. That’s tree pruning practice. Tree pruning is a big deal. I’ve
been learning that becoming an expert tree pruner can take a
lifetime to achieve. Not only is tree pruning a hard skill to master,
pruning shapes the tree’s destiny. Your apple crop and overall tree
health are also influenced. I’ve been reading several books these
past months on the art of tree pruning. I’ll admit, tree pruning
stresses me out. Given my stress, which stems from me not wanting
to mess it up, I’ve decided to move forward with caution. Rest
assured, I’m not going to be out in the orchard with a chainsaw
running from tree to tree. Yikes!
December 11th, 2015
I’m pleased to say that our orchard is ready for winter. With help from many friends, we were able to paint all 815 of our apple trees with Biodynamic tree paste. It was a big job that took most of a very windy and chilly day to complete, but with perseverance, we got it done. To celebrate, a tasty meal was enjoyed, along with glasses to drink of delicious apple cider. The cider is from our very first apple harvest that Dan and I picked this late summer through the first part of October. How great is that?
An apple tree coated with tree paste and sweet apple cider. Yum!
Not only was the juice a much anticipated treat from our apple orchard, I’ve been able to start a record book about our orchard’s apples. Each apple cultivar has its very own page. I’m keeping record of when an apple cultivar begins to ripen, its fruit appearance, the amount of apples gathered, and quantity of juice from pressings. There are even notes about how the apples taste for each year. If all goes well, with a little luck, a fair amount of skill, and a lot of hard work, we should see the entries about amount of apples we pick each year increase by plentiful amounts.
In addition to our first apple harvest, Cottonwood Farm also became the first certified Organic and Biodynamic* fruit orchard in North Dakota. We were so excited that our goal to achieve this title became a reality. Heather and I have worked many hours on paper work and record keeping, helping us gain this certified status. Not to mention, making sure that the farm encompassed all that Cottonwood needed for the Stellar (Organic) and Demeter (Biodynamic)* stamp of approval. Carrying out Biodynamic Preparations*, having at least 10% of our farm include natural habitat and following the National Organic Program requirements are just a few things that we do for these documentations. I’m thinking about writing a bit more this coming winter about all that goes into becoming certified Organic and Biodynamic*. There might be more to it than you think. Stay tuned…….
Click on any of the certifications below to view our certifications.
Yep, we’ve had a good amount of excitement at Cottonwood Farm this year. Now that harvest is done and the orchard is ready for winter, you might be wondering what does an orchardist do in the off months. I get really busy focusing on making plans for next year’s growing season. Plans that include planting 606 more apples trees in the spring of 2016 and 500 in 2017. I’m hoping that with this addition to our apple orchard, we will have enough apples in the future to supply our soon-to-be-built cider house. That’s my goal. With all of these new trees coming our way, in the upcoming months, I’ll be busy updating orchard maps and putting the final touches on our growing plans for 2016 and 2017. I should mention the fun thing that’ll keep me busy this winter too, developing my hard cider crafting skills along side my husband Dan.
Here’s to fermentation greatness!
October & November 2015
My big and extremely thrilling news to report is that I’m done with our first ever apple harvest! And, I’ve been able to taste every type of apple that we have planted in our orchard! Except for the one and only Red Baron apple. Greg, the dog, ate that. This has been the first year that I’ve let our trees hold some of their apples to maturity. In addition to this amazing event, I’m happy to relay that each apple variety tastes different. Not just a little bit different, but noticeably different. Even more astonishing, our Honeycrisps, Zestars, Sweet 16s, or any cultivars of apple we have growing, have their own unique flavor when I compare them to other people’s apples. That’s right. A different flavor when compared to other apples of the same apple cultivar. I’m totally convinced that a farm’s unique characteristics play a role in sculpting an apple’s flavor. I can’t deny it; it’s been a delicious fall.
Sharing an apple with Greg.
September 8th, 2015
Excitement, excitement!!!! I picked hops today! I am happy to see that the hop plants that I started last spring have produced their first flowers. The flowers smell wonderful and have a strong citrus aroma. So far, so good. I am going to say that our trial of hop vines is proving to be a success. If the plants can survive a North Dakota winter, we will be planting 600 more hop rhizomes in 2017. Here’s to continued success!
These beauties are Cascade hop flowers.
August 14th, 2015
It has finally happened. The Yellow Transparent apples are ripe and I picked apples today. They are the apple cultivar that is ready for picking the earliest out of all of our varieties. I was so ecstatic while gathering those yellowish-green globes. I’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity for this day to finally happen. Instead of picking baby apples from our trees, only to throw them into the compost pile, I handpicked full-grown apples for us to juice and eat. It’s been a great day.
Yellow Transparent apples have the tartness that a good hard cider needs.
July 16th, 2015
Spring’s cool and rainy weather has been replaced by sheer hotness and humidity. “Ugh.” I’m not surprised that given the weather characteristics, I’m now seeing signs of apple scab (fungal disease) on the apple leaves. I’ll be drawing up a strategy to combat this nasty ailment. Wish me luck in my future fungal fighting plans. With cape on and my arms stretch out in front of me. “ Da ta da…. Stacy the Orchardist to the rescue!!!”
The brownish spots you see on the leaves are apple scab. The scabs are circled in red in the picture above.
May & June 2015
Spring has sprung. I can’t tell you how relieved I am every spring when I see the first signs of bud break. After seeing our trees show obvious signs of life, by becoming covered in blossoms, I have a state of “Whew” come over me because I know that we have made it through another winter. Spring in the orchard really is my favorite time of year to be an orchardist. Maybe, when the time comes that we have our first apple harvest at Cottonwood Farm, I might like fall better, but until that happens, I’m lovin’ spring.
Admittedly, I do spend a fair amount of time gazing at apple blossoms in the spring and I do get a tad dreamy during this season. Yet, we’ve still been able to accomplish a lot of work in the orchard. Our team and I have been busy planting replacement apple trees to fill the empty spots left by the apple trees we lost due to the cold winter of 2013/2014. My aim is to have our apple tree inventory back to the 1,000-tree mark. Now, my attention has turned to day-to-day orchard maintenance tasks. Using Biodynamic Preparations*, removing small apples so there aren’t too many hanging from our still growing trees, and keeping an eye out for potential fungal outbreaks.
Exquisite apple blossoms turn into beautiful baby apples.
July - Oct. 2016
May / June 2016
Mar. / Apr. 2016
Jan. / Feb. 2016
Oct. / Nov. 2015
May / June 2015
Cider House Manager
“A nice country drive 45 minutes NW of Fargo, ND, easy to find with paved roads taking you to Cottonwood Farm"