During the off season, we receive a surprising number of messages from our followers about when and how to manage their backyard apple trees. Some people have an old, overgrown tree on their property and aren't sure what to do to produce edible fruit. Others have tried their hands at planting new trees but don't know what to do to keep them healthy and productive. Pruning plays a big role in both of these scenarios but when to prune depends on your desired outcome.
Growing quality apples starts with proper pruning when the tree is dormant during the winter or early spring months. Prolonged freezing temperatures in the winter cause fruit trees to go into a a dormant period where energy is stored in the root system and sap stops flowing. Pruning and thinning cuts made while the tree is dormant will often promote vegetative regrowth as the tree wakes up and attempts to heal where cuts have been made. If a tree has diseased, broken or unproductive branches, winter pruning can be an effective way to replace old limbs that need to be removed. Pruning in winter should be done when average temperatures are still around freezing, but after the harshest conditions have passed. March is often the ideal time in our climate.
Pruning in the summer can also have a beneficial effect on trees and fruit quality. Fruit trees, particularly ones that have been winter pruned, will typically push out vegetative (i.e. no fruit) shoots that can excessively shade growing fruit and lower limbs, preventing colour and sugar development. A cluttered and busy tree canopy can also be a breading ground for nasty diseases that can infect fruit, or worse, the tree itself. Prune out some of these shoots in the summer to allow light and air to reach the trunk and internal parts of the tree, but avoid making large cuts and structural changes to the tree in summer. Summer cuts made about a month before harvest will heal, but are far less likely to result in undesirable regrowth.
Pruning is often considered more of an art than a science. Depending on who you ask, particular techniques or preferences can vary quite a bit. Even the experts can disagree! We rely on over 40 years of growing experience to guide our practices and get the most out of our orchard. Even still, we are constantly learning and experimenting with new techniques in an effort to improve the health and productivity of our trees.
If you are interested in learning more about how to prune and manage your own fruit trees, consider signing up for our Pruning and Tree Care Workshop, which will be held at the farm on March 21 from 10 am - 1 pm. Advanced booking is a must as spaces are limited. Check out our event listing for more information!
After nearly two months of apple picking, our pick-your-own season is coming to an end and the final day of picking will be this Saturday, October 26. We will remain open until October 31 for pumpkins, squash, pre-picked apples and sweet cider. Swing by the orchard this Saturday for one last walk around the farm and enjoy a taste of fall in the country. We will still have Empire, Mutsu, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Spy available to pick. Hope to see you this weekend!
As the weather cools and the seasonal colours change to vibrant reds and oranges, many apple varieties are at their peak of ripeness and flavour. Ambrosia is our top pick, with its satisfying crunch, delicious sweetness and almost tropical flavour, it's sure to become a new favouite. Others like Empire, Jonagold, and Mutsu offer more tart and complex flavours, perfect for eating fresh or baking. Of course, the long awaited Northern Spy and Golden Russet are finally ready and are ideal for the home cider maker. Northern Spy, Cortland and the last of our Honeycrisp also make great baking apples.
We will have two more pressings of our sweet apple cider before the season winds down, so be sure to stock up. Cider freezes well so grab some extra and put it in your freezer after removing a cup or so to prevent the jug from bursting. Thaw during the holidays for an extra-special treat and enjoy cold, hot, or mulled.
Our pumpkin patch is full or beautiful carving pumpkins for Halloween or for decorating. Take a walk out to the patch and pick your perfect pumpkin or grab a ready-picked one from our market. Make sure to swing by the corn maze on your way!
Nothing completes a Thanksgiving weekend like a visit to the apple orchard. The forecast looks good and we will be open all three days (yes, that includes the holiday Monday!) with so many varieties to choose from. Come enjoy the beautiful fall colours, crisp air, and the freshest apples. For all of your fall baking, we still have plenty of Cortland, Spartan, Jonagold, Macoun, and starting this weekend, Northern Spy. For the best baked desserts, try a combination of apple types for more complex flavour and texture.
After another year of waiting, Honeycrisp are here once again! The cooler nights have slowed maturation but also brought beautiful colour. After a slight delay, we are "spot picking" Honeycrisp starting this weekend. Look for the apples with the most colour and be careful not to knock off the others as they will continue to grow and ripen if left on the trees.
If Honeycrisp aren't your thing, we have plenty of other delicious varieties to choose from including Gala, McIntosh, Spartan, Ginger Gold, Blondee and the elusive Macoun.
Wondering what to do with all of your apples when you get them home? Try this delicious recipe from the Ontario Apple Growers and The Little Sweet Baker!
Toffee Apple Pecan Crumble Pie
Picking season has arrived at the orchard, although a bit later than usual. With a long, cool spring and lower-than-average temperatures this summer, our harvest dates are running a little behind schedule. Most varieties appear to be about 7-10 days behind, but there are still apples to pick this weekend! The upside of the cooler temps is that the apples have developed beautiful, vibrant red skin. Here's an update on the crop and what's up next:
Another Dinner in the Orchard is in the books! As a follow up to our first-ever dinner event held last August, Dinner in the Blossoms was one of three intimate gatherings we hope to host on the farm this year. Bringing people together to share a meal and enjoy to beauty of Nature's Bounty is something we have come to thoroughly enjoy and plan to continue with the encouragement of our guests. Those brave enough to attend during an unusually cool spring were rewarded with the nicest weather we've seen so far this season, a gorgeous sunset, and of course an incredible menu brought to life by Chef Rene Brunet and his team.
We tasked Chef Rene with showcasing a range of local ingredients in fun and flavourful ways and he certainly did not disappoint. As our guests arrived, they were greeted with fresh mini pizzas, bison sliders, maple candied walnuts, grilled lamb skewers, fresh fried Ontario perch and more. After sipping on a taste of 5 Paddles "Home Sweet Home", we toured the orchard blossoms which had emerged only hours before, as if on cue. For dinner, Chef Rene kept the fresh flavours coming as his team served up a spring salad with local asparagus and sprouts, bison carpaccio, apple wood smoked lamb stew, jerked chicken, quinoa salad and finished with a slice of chocolate raspberry torte. And to help wash it all down, Ian Mills from 5 Paddles Brewing offered expertly paired craft beer which complemented every course. We capped off the night with a taste of his own bourbon barrel aged barley wine; a rare treat from the cellar.
We owe a huge thank you to Chef Rene and his team for the incredible food and service, to Ian Mills for taking us on a expedition of flavour, to Jan Balser for bringing an elegant touch to the evening with spring decor, and to all of our guests who supported us by attending. We would also like to thank Thunderridge Bison and Willowtree Farm for supplying some of the wonderful local ingredients used for the dinner. We hope everyone had as much fun as we did!
Curious to see what you missed? Check out our gallery from the evening! Don't want to miss out on our next event? Sign up for our email list so you'll be the first to know about future dinners, events and special offers!
It's hard to recall a growing season that has been as slow to get going as this one. Three months ago, an early thaw had us thinking we were in for an early bloom. With above average rainfall and unusually cool temperatures, our apple trees have been producing foliage, but the flowers have been slow to emerge. Finally, nearly 10 days later than last year, our orchard is in full bloom.
Our local pollinators have also been a little slower than usual on account of the weather. Most bees and butterflies like warm sunny days to do their work. Although it's been cool, there's no need to worry! Pollinators are so good at what they do, farmers can have a crop set in as little as one day if the conditions are favourable. Thankfully, we have had at least two good pollination days since bloom began. The long-range forecast still looks cooler than we would like but there are signs that warmer weather lies ahead.
As we wait for things to pick up in the orchard, the timing was right to get our Pumpkin Patch planted this week. What used to be the Corn Maze will be home to over 25 varieties of pumpkins, squash, gourds and sunflowers this year. While our visitors may find it strange that we move our Maze and Pumpkin Patch around, rotating fields with different crops is an import technique used to prevent the build up of pesky pests and damaging diseases. We are looking forward to a few more changes at the farm this year. You'll have to visit this fall to find out what we've got in the works!
Andrea and Isaac sit on top of an old corn planter we use for pumpkins!
Some people may think that once all of the apples are picked and temperatures start to drop, us farmers stay holed up indoors keeping cozy by the wood stove with a good book in hand and hot drink close by. As much as we wish that were true, (well, sometimes it is!) there is lots to keep us busy in the winter months.
One of the ongoing tasks apple growers face in the winter is pruning. When temperatures are consistently below freezing, apple trees go dormant until the spring. Each of our 13,000 trees must be carefully inspected and trimmed back to help them produce a healthy crop. Apple trees tend to produce the best apples on wood that is 2-3 years old, so pruning out old and tired branches encourages the growth of new limbs where the fruit will develop size and colour the best. When the tree wakes up, it starts to send energy to the remaining branches where the fruit buds are waiting to swell and blossom. Ideally, all of our pruning is done before the sap starts to flow in spring which requires discipline and good winter gear to complete on time.
On days that are too cold or snowy to prune, we keep busy in the office; ordering supplies, catching up on paperwork, planning events, and mapping out the growing season. We also spend time attending conferences and meeting with other growers to share knowledge and explore new ways to improve our operation. Therein lies one of our favourite parts of horticulture: even after 40 years of growing apples, there is always something new to learn.
Are you interested in learning how to prune that old apple tree in your backyard? Have you planted some trees but aren't sure how to prune to keep them healthy? Let us know if you are interested in attending a pruning workshop this March! Better yet, sign up for our newsletter so you'll never miss an update on upcoming workshops and events.
It seems as quickly as it arrived, the apple picking season is coming to an end. Our Red Delicious, Empire and Fuji trees still have a bit of fruit left to pick and our market is stocked with Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, Cortland, McIntosh, Russet and Pears, however, this will be the last weekend we are open to the public. We will remain open until Halloween with a selection of carving pumpkins, squash, and ready-picked apples. Visitors are free to enjoy a walk around the property, explore the corn maze and take in the sights of the season. We hope to see you at the orchard!