Winter Planning

After a rather mild start, winter is here and holding on. No matter, there's plenty to do while the ground is frozen and the fig trees are resting happily in our garage. We've been up to a good bit of planning this winter and wanted to give an update for what to look for in the coming year. We're excited about what's to come and hope you will be too. Okay, maybe not as excited as us, but only because we're big plant nerds.

Organic Certification

Big news! We've officially started our organic certification process! We're pursuing our certification through Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) and hope to have our first crops certified in June of 2017, 2018 at the latest. It's a three year process for crop production and we hope to eventually have the majority of our production certified.

Look for organic u-pick raspberries, blackberries, and black raspberries in 2017!

Figs Again

Once again we've started a number of fig trees in our basement for sale in the spring. We're attempting to root around 160 trees, not nearly the 450 we went for last year but enough to sell and keep us busy. We've pared down the number of varieties based on what sold last year and interest from our customers. I've included a list below for those interested. We're still somewhat undecided about shipping figs this spring since we'll be busy with quite a number of projects, so stay tuned. Trees will always be available for pickup here at the farm.

Varieties for 2016

Adriatic JH, Atreano, Black Madeira, Black Weeping, Col de Dame Blanc, Col de Dame Gris, Col de Dame Noir, Dark Portuguese, Florea, Hunt, Kathleen's Black, Keddie, Latarolla, Longue D'Aout, LSU Improved Celeste, Macool, Malone, Malta Black, Maltese Falcon, Marseilles Black VS, Nero 600M, Niagara Black, Ronde de Bordeaux, Smith, Takoma Violet

Fig starts just 2-3 weeks into the growing process. We're growing in a much warmer basement (77-79F) so progress is much faster this year.

Fig starts just 2-3 weeks into the growing process. We're growing in a much warmer basement (77-79F) so progress is much faster this year.

Young leaves on a Syrian variety, 'Qalaat Al Madiq'. We received some cuttings from a good friend and will be trying this variety along with Chiappetta, Dottato Nero, and Izbat An Naj (Egyptian variety) this year.

Young leaves on a Syrian variety, 'Qalaat Al Madiq'. We received some cuttings from a good friend and will be trying this variety along with Chiappetta, Dottato Nero, and Izbat An Naj (Egyptian variety) this year.

Orchard Plans

After a year of cover-cropping we're finally ready to begin planting a portion of the land. We'll continue our cover crop rotation on the remainder of the land to continue building soil while gradually taking over the entirety.

This year's plantings are brambles (raspberries, blackberries, and black raspberries) and hardy kiwi berries (fuzz-less, sweeter, grape-sized versions of what you're used to in the grocery store). We've been busy selecting the best-tasting, productive, most disease-resistant berries that will cover the longest harvest span. We'll be putting in almost 1,000 plants along with all of the supporting trellising for the planting. 

Brambles can begin bearing in the year they're planted with a half-decent crop the following year. Expect that we'll open the u-pick for these early and mid-summer berries in June and July of 2017.

Planning out varieties, spacing, and irrigation for our bramble planting this year.

Planning out varieties, spacing, and irrigation for our bramble planting this year.

Nursery Plans

One of our goals has been to offer fruit trees and bushes to the home gardener who desires to grow their own fruit. We've dedicated about an acre of land to a nursery area containing display plantings of our favorite fruiting trees, the trees available to purchase, and some greenhouse and fig growing space. We'd like to incorporate espaliered pears, apples, and other fruiting trees, plantings of rare and unusual fruits, and highlight some of the low maintenance fruits you can grow in the area.

The area we've set aside was planted with a low-growing grass mix this past spring. The mix of grass we used was designed for orchards to reduce maintenance but still provide nice walkways. It's supposed to only require 1-3 mowings a year and minimal inputs fertilizer-wise. If it proves itself we'll continue using it on the remainder of the orchard.

With all of that said, neither of us are trained landscape designers so we've been playing around with some possible designs for the space to make it both attractive and functional. We'll keep you updated!

Got ideas for us? Please leave them in the comments!

Attempting to come up with a design that is functional, beautiful, easy to maintain, and that will allow us to expand in the future. Not an easy task!

Attempting to come up with a design that is functional, beautiful, easy to maintain, and that will allow us to expand in the future. Not an easy task!

Fencing the Orchard

From the beginning, some of our biggest concerns with the orchard were weeds and preventing deer damage. Our property was fenced back in the 90's when a tree farm was located on the property. The tree farm business stopped sometime in the early 00's and since then the forest has tried to reclaim its lost ground. We've been pondering how to best maintain a clean fence row without resorting to herbicides.

Enter fencing and goats.

This past year we fenced in two-thirds of an acre of pasture for our Nigerian dwarf goats and chickens. A portion of that was a really overgrown and weedy patch that we didn't bother to clear prior to setting the goats loose. They loved it. Every day they would walk past lush green grass to feed on every kind of weed and brush imaginable. That got the wheels turning. Turns out goats love to eat the kinds of weeds that thrive in farm fencerows: brambles, multiflora rose, poison ivy (crazy, right?), and honeysuckle. They'll girdle young trees and strip them of leaves. They're masters at land-clearing and eating down weeds. Goats get a free meal and we get a cleared fencerow, sounds like a win-win to me.

This summer we'll be fencing in almost our entire property, twice. We hope to let the goats in the fence by mid-summer to begin the clearing process. If all goes according to plan they'll have cleared a little over an acre by the time fall rolls around.

In addition to weed control, we hope the fence will serve a second purpose: keeping deer out of the orchard. I've heard that it's best to exclude deer from an area prior to planting, that way they don't know what they're missing on the other side of the fence. If they're used to browsing on fruit trees, then fencing them out becomes a much harder task. This approach seemed to work at our old property. We put up a 6 foot deer and orchard fence there prior to planting and no deer have bothered it. Okay, there was one or two times, but only because the gate was left wide open by the guy writing this article.

Chopped down brushy flowering pears become winter snacks for the goats. They'll clear these limbs of bark and buds.

Chopped down brushy flowering pears become winter snacks for the goats. They'll clear these limbs of bark and buds.

Starting to clear the fence row of brush. We'll first pull down existing old fence wire, chop down larger trees, then bush hog the area to get it ready to put up new goat fencing.

Starting to clear the fence row of brush. We'll first pull down existing old fence wire, chop down larger trees, then bush hog the area to get it ready to put up new goat fencing.

Looking to Spring

As I write, snow flurries are falling and snow blankets the land. Before long though, crocuses will bravely venture above ground and buds will begin to swell. Spring is not long off. In the meantime, we'll be busy making final preparations and doing any work we can ahead of time. We have a busy spring ahead of us!

Lord willing, those are our plans for this year. Let us know what you think in the comments!


Fig trees available for bareroot fall shipment

Fall is upon us and our trees our trees have settled in for their winter's rest. We've finally had a chance to pot up all our trees and have done an inventory for the year. As a result, we're making our larger, 3 gallon, trees available for bareroot shipping. Our 3 gallon trees are priced at double the price of our normal trees due to their size. We had a good growing year and the trees were very vigorous. You should expect that the 3 gallon-sized trees are, in general, 18-36" tall and very well-rooted. Some were up-potted rather late so they didn't have a chance to fully fill their 3 gallon pots with roots. If you're into propagating from cuttings, you should be able to pull 3-4 cuttings from each tree.

Unfortunately we cannot offer a guarantee on our bareroot trees due to the unpredictability of winter weather and the subtropical nature of fig trees. We successfully store our trees in pots in an unheated, insulated garage for the winter and they all do very well with minimal care. Please order only if you're confident in storing trees for the winter, otherwise you may be better off waiting to order in spring.

Orders placed this week will ship the week of 11/23 or 11/30 (weather permitting). Shipments may be delayed to 11/30 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. We'll continue shipping, winter permitting, into about mid-December.

Shipping rates are $15 per order plus $2 for each tree (1 tree = $17, 2 trees = $19, 3 trees = $21, etc). Because we're a small outfit, we require a $100 order minimum to ship your order. We don't aim to make money from our shipping, just to cover costs.

Finally, we're offering discounts on several of our cultivars: LSU Gold, LSU Tiger, Lyndhurst White, and Sal's Corleone. These are very nice trees and are available for 25% or more off their normal price. Our Sal's Corleone trees are very large and were in their second leaf this year.

Order through our store!

Some of our dormant trees waiting for a new home

Some of our dormant trees waiting for a new home

More figs waiting for a good home!

More figs waiting for a good home!

Orders are secure and are processed through our payment provider, Square.

We're still here!

Yea, we haven't written in an embarrassingly long time. Gosh, it's been a busy summer. We've been running around like crazy trying to get our land ready for planting next year through the use of cover crops, remodeling the farmhouse, and moving (yep, we moved to the farm!). Oh, and putting up a fence for the goats and chickens, moving outbuildings and fixing up the existing agricultural well. Other than that, things have been quiet...

We still have figs for sale for pickup only (they're HUGE this year), but Contact Us for availability information as we're in the middle of potting up everything. Our Store will have an updated inventory soon with a list of plants available for pickup.

We've been getting questions regarding availability of plants in the fall for shipping and unfortunately we won't have all that many. Next year we'll make an attempt to propagate more plants to be ready for the fall season. As the few we have become ready I'll place them in our Store.

Thanks for your support this year and your patience through a busy summer! God has been so gracious to us. Look for an updated picture post soon.

Fruit Trees for Sale 2015

Our fruit trees are now for sale! We've spent the winter propagating and now the trees (figs and pomegranates) are ready for new homes. Head on over to our Store to place an order. Due to our store vendor, pickup orders can currently only be placed during our normal business hours (Mon-Sat, 8am-5pm), but you can also Contact Us and we'll be happy to put in an order for ya. See below for more info.

There are two options for receiving your order: shipping or pickup. You will need to order a minimum of $100 for a shipped order. Shipping charges are a $15 + $2 for each tree ordered. Unfortunately no shipping to AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA or internationally due to current restrictions. We will continue shipping until the weather gets hot (probably mid to late June). Any orders placed this week will likely ship on 5/18 or 5/25 (depending on the volume of orders received).

No minimum applies for orders picked up at the farm in Mechanicsburg. Pickup instructions will be shown after you make your purchase (you'll basically just need to call ahead and arrange it). PA sales tax applies for PA residents.

Some trees will be available in very limited quantities, so if there's a tree you want, get your order in early!

Baby fig trees in need of a good home

Baby fig trees in need of a good home

Week in Pictures 4/19/2015

What a nice week here at the farm. The warmth seemed to wake up all the plants, all at once. We love the beauty of the flowering trees, especially the stone fruits (peaches, plums, cherries, apricots) and pome fruits (pears and apples). Even if these trees are tricky to get good fruit without sprays, they're worth planting just for the spring blossoms. Some of our trees are flowering for the first time this year and some will flower in late April to early May (apple, persimmon, pawpaw) and on into June (jujube). We hope you enjoy these fruit blossoms and hope it even spurs you to start your own little orchard!

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance' Serviceberry

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance' Serviceberry

'Harbinger' peach in almost full bloom

'Harbinger' peach in almost full bloom

'Ruby Sweet' plum. Let's hope for at least a few this year!

'Ruby Sweet' plum. Let's hope for at least a few this year!

Everything has taken on that spring green color. 

Everything has taken on that spring green color. 

An espaliered Asian pear 'Yoinashi' is among the first to bloom. 

An espaliered Asian pear 'Yoinashi' is among the first to bloom. 

Some of the blueberries are rather close to opening. Can't wait for fresh berries in just a couple months. 

Some of the blueberries are rather close to opening. Can't wait for fresh berries in just a couple months. 

Honeyberries put on some nice blossoms and are one of the first fruits to ripen. If only I could get to the fruit before the birds do. 

Honeyberries put on some nice blossoms and are one of the first fruits to ripen. If only I could get to the fruit before the birds do. 

And on into spring

It’s hard to believe that Spring is just one week away. The sun is slowly winning the battle over the cold and snow and our thoughts have turned to warm afternoons spent out in the orchard, ideally eating handfuls of berries.

The goats enjoying a tasty treat of pear tree trimmings.

The goats enjoying a tasty treat of pear tree trimmings.

A winter of learning

This has been an eventful winter. One of our favorite times this winter was our time spent at the annual PASA Conference held in State College. This was a jam-packed two day event full of seminars on every imaginable topic on sustainable agriculture. The attendees are as varied as the topics, from Amish folk to hippies. Kat contemplated dreds for at least two weeks afterwards but I talked her out of it. At the conference I mostly attending soil health topics while Kat focused on animal husbandry. We were exhausted (in a good way!) at the end of two days.

I also had the opportunity to attend the Real Health Conference held at Lancaster Ag. I spent the day listening to Michael Phillips, an author and proponent of holistic orchard management. It again was a wealth of information but was exciting to hear from a person managing an organic apple orchard.

The remainder of the winter has been spent reading as well as attending our Beginning Commercial Tree Fruit Course put on by PSU. I appreciate the course and the information, but the majority of the content is focused on conventional production rather than organic. It’s really hard to find good sources of information on organic production where folks are doing it on a larger scale. Still, we’re up for the challenge.

2014-2015 Winter Recap

Winter was a rough one this year. Okay, maybe rough is an understatement. Things started out okay in December but goodness, once the snow really hit it didn’t leave until, well, this week. Mid-to-late February ran a good 15-20 degrees below normal for the average highs and I believe we might have even set a record low or two. Still, on the whole, the winter didn’t seem as severe as last year’s and we only hit -3F (yea, only -3F, but at least it wasn’t last year’s -5F!). Snow cover remained intact for pretty much the entire cold period so I’m hopeful that it will help some of the borderline plants to survive the cold.

This reddish-gold fig wood is pretty but it means the majority of the limbs have died. Still, healthier gray wood survives below the snow line so I'm holding out hope!

This reddish-gold fig wood is pretty but it means the majority of the limbs have died. Still, healthier gray wood survives below the snow line so I'm holding out hope!

There were a number of our plants put to the test this year. Spring will tell the full story of how they fared, but I expect the story with our figs to be close to the same as last year: almost completely top-killed. Still, I expect most to survive and push up again from close to ground level. My curiosity is centered on our Asian persimmons, rabbiteye blueberries, and the Salavatski pomegranate. I've done a few scratch tests on the bark of each of these and everything looks good so far, much to my surprise.

Last year we lost the flower buds on all but one Asian persimmon, Great Wall, which happened to bear a great crop for the year. Okay, Saijo also produced one fruit, but that really doesn’t count. I’ll be curious to see how the plants fared this year, especially some of the newer cultivars that had just one year in the ground.

I also picked up a number of rabbiteye blueberries this past year and planted them. Supposedly they begin to start experiencing damage at 0F with major damage and death around -5F. They’re in a somewhat sheltered location so this should be a good test for them.

Our Salavatski pomegranates are another curiosity this year. Supposedly they can stand around -8F in a protected area (like against a house), but ours are out in the open in our orchard (a bit wind-sheltered, but still). With -5F last year they all died to the ground (or close to it) but resprouted like crazy last summer and grew quite a lot. With a less severe winter this year and another year in the ground, perhaps they’ll fare better.

This honeyberry is already beginning to bud out. It's one of our hardiest, earliest fruiting plant and its blooms can purportedly withstand 22F. Verdict is still out on the fruit, though.

This honeyberry is already beginning to bud out. It's one of our hardiest, earliest fruiting plant and its blooms can purportedly withstand 22F. Verdict is still out on the fruit, though.

So what IS reliably hardy even in these two harsh winters? Pretty much everything else we have planted. Pears, apples, northern highbush and half-high blueberries, currants, lingonberries, honeyberries, and most raspberries seem to shrug off this kind of cold like it’s nothing. Pawpaws, jujubes, and stone fruits are much the same and would likely be okay down to at least the negative teens (though peach and apricot flower buds don’t necessarily survive this cold). Blackberries seem to vary on location. At the orchard where I worked, some the blackberries froze out last year while others did much better. At our own orchard I didn’t see any damage, even on some late-planted varieties that I had considered perhaps borderline (Kiowa and Osage).

The bare red-purple canes of the black raspberry contrast beautifully against our fence.

The bare red-purple canes of the black raspberry contrast beautifully against our fence.

Plans for the growing season

So what’s on tap for the growing season? Lots! This year our efforts are focused on soil health and infrastructure.

The PASA conference this year really underscored for us the importance of establishing a healthy soil: one high in organic matter and biologically active. Since the field we’re planting in has been farmed conventionally for quite a while we’re not sure of its condition. We’ll start in the spring with a soil test to assess where we’re at, then proceed with a cover crop rotation through the spring and summer to both build up soil organic matter and jump-start the soil biology. We also plan to have the goats graze the cover crop via moveable pastures.

Infrastructure is another big part of what we’ll be focused on this year. We’ll be tearing down much of the existing electric fence that runs the course of the field and either replacing it or changing it over to an orchard fence to keep the deer out. We’ll also be fixing up the existing wooden fencing to move our goats or chickens over to the farm. We should pretty much be experts in fencing, and completely tired of it, by the end of the growing season.

Irrigation is another big project this year. We were blessed to have a functioning irrigation well already on the property from its days as a tree farm. We’ll fix up that system and run main supply lines to various spots in the orchard to set the stage for planting next year.

Finally, we’re readying our nursery area to begin growing out our production fig trees as well as those we’ll have for sale. We’ve also ordered native trees to help landscape the wood line around the orchard and enhance the beauty of the landscape.

New Plants for a New Year

What would a new year be without some new plants to try? It seems like each year we experiment with a few more new plants or at least a few new cultivars of plants we already grow.

So I know by all reasonable measures we’re growing enough figs. Though another way to look at it is if we’re currently growing around 80 varieties, what’s 3 or 4 more, right? This year we’re trying out Sodus Sicilian, Bisirri #3, Petite Aubique, and LSU Champagne to see how they fare here (likely in pots).

We’ve grown just two varieties of pomegranates so far, Salavatski and Kazake, and are branching out to try a few more. Salavatski and Kazake are purportedly some of the most hardy varieties, withstanding some dips into the negatives and making them mostly hardy for our 6b/7a climate zone. We’ll try out some earlier fruiting varieties this year to evaluate them for early production: Ambrosia, Azadi, Eversweet, Kaim-anor, Kaj-acik-anor, and Suhr-anor.

For Asian persimmons, we’re branching out this year to try a few varieties in pots. Yea, that might be a little crazy but if we can determine a few that produce early and are non-astringent (meaning you can eat them while they’re still hard), then they might be candidates for growing in high tunnels. For Asian persimmons we’re adding Wase Fuyu, Hira Tanenashi, Gwang Yang, Chocolate, CoffeeCake, Izu, and Maru. For Asian/American hybrids, we’re trying Nikita’s Gift (Nikitskaya Bordovaya), Rosseyanka, and Kasandra. For American persimmons we’re trying Prok, Celebrity, Wonderful, and 100-46. Now about finding a place to plant most of them…

What else? We received some seeds from a supposed Iranian lemon, which are growing nicely. I confess, I have a love/hate relationship with citrus. I love the evergreen leaves and the smell of the blossoms, but I can never seem to overwinter them all that well. I’m also curious about a recent introduction, the Sherbet Berry (sounds good, right?), Grewia asiatica. It’s supposedly deciduous and fruits on new wood like figs. However it may not stand up well to freezes so I’m not sure how we might overwinter it, even in pots.

Daffodils display signs of life in our garden. Spring is not far off!

Daffodils display signs of life in our garden. Spring is not far off!

Wrap it up already

It’s finally warming up after a steadily cold winter. All this cold may end up being a blessing in terms of later bloom times and suppressed insect populations. Look for an update from us in the next month as plants slowly begin to wake up.

Enjoy the remainder of winter everyone, the busy season is just around the bend! We look forward to serving you this coming season.