OLD FRUIT VARIETIES
Apples are our passion. We are always on the lookout for old varieties and those that were around before 1900 are of great interest to us. We do grow other tree fruit, like pears, plums and cherries (and look out for old varieties of these as well). When we started our new orchard, we were blessed with the opportunity to be able to focus on this. These “old” varieties have a lot of flavour differences, and are used for many different purposes besides eating fresh. Apples have been cultivated for nearly 3000 years and there are around 7500 known varieties.
We prefer to call them antique varieties and not heirlooms because all apples and many other tree fruits are hybrids. Heirlooms to us brings up the image of open pollinated varieties. Apples for example need to pollinate with another variety in order to produce a crop. Some produce a bigger crop when planted next to other specific varieties. In the times of our ancestors, this would have been random but as time went on this effort has become more planned. Have we abandoned newer varieties? No, we have not. We do grow favorite varieties that you now find in most grocery stores.
Click here to see what varieties we grow. The list changes as we add new ones.
We have been in the apple industry for a long time. Over the decades apple growing has changed and a lot of the most harmful chemicals have been replaced. In the late 80’s we became aware of organic growing and implemented some of the techniques. However after years of research we needed to use a more balanced approach in our growing methods. Organic may not necessarily mean no spray as there are approved chemicals for organic production. Using the best techniques to reduce our impact on the environment and increase safety for us and our customers. Where are we now?
We mostly use the same techniques throughout the farm but have also taken a portion of the property and are using food forest growing methods. This approach uses biodiversity in the garden to reduce pesticide use and increase plant health. We are committed to both so we can reduce our environmental footprint. If we find something here that works and is better for the environment, we transfer it to the main orchard. This garden doubles as a research and education area. The things we learn here are then used in the main orchard. The goal is to eliminate pesticide use.
We have slowly changed how we approach the health of our trees. compost, mulch and other more environmentally friendly nutrients are now part of the program. Using them improves soil health by nurturing the soil organisms and a cooperative effect between them and the plant results. As a result we do not use herbicides and have chosen to use the sod mulch system of growing. This gives us weed control and helps retain soil moisture. In the future we hope to be able to use cover crops in our program as well. Our practices are designed to promote orchard health, nurture pollinators and beneficial predators, and foster biodiversity. We are constantly studying different growing methods to add to our toolbox.
Pest and Disease Control
The Great Lakes area of Ontario makes growing tree fruit difficult without using chemical pest control. It seems our region is the perfect zone for all the diseases and pests tree fruit can get. Add to this our mission to save older varieties (which may not have good natural resistance) and more invasive species arriving from other countries and the challenge is even greater. Some methods used in a backyard garden are not practical on a larger scale.
We start with soil improvement and making sure out trees are healthy. A healthy plant is much better at resisting pests and disease. We then use Integrated Pest Management. The philosophy of IPM, regardless of how a crop is grown, is to only intervene and use pesticides when only necessary. Careful monitoring of diseases, pests, tree health, and using cultural practices are all used so pesticides are only used when necessary. An example of a cultural practice is to make sure there are plenty of flowering plants to help sustain predator insects (this also helps pollinators). Another is to support birds that feed on pests.
Do We Spray? Yes we do, but not all sprays are for pests. Some sprays are used to feed the trees through foliar fertilization. Others like kaolin clay provides a physical barrier to block pests. We are a commercial farm and need to be able to provide high quality, safe produce. We also sell fruit from other local farms as we wait for our trees to begin producing (They use IPM and do spray). We have developed a good working relationship with these farmers based on trust. From these growers we only sell varieties where we have the same varieties planted in our orchard. Once our trees bear consistently, we will only purchase those we cannot grow or if we have a crop failure.
The majority of our spray program is to provide the trees with nutrients and essential fatty acids. This covers the nutritional portion of our program. When it becomes necessary to use a pesticide, they are chosen for their reduced environmental impact (our first choice is always those acceptable for organic production), ability to target only the pest we need to control and they do not affect pollinators and other beneficials. By law in Ontario we must obtain a card from the government that allows us to buy and apply pesticides. We must take a course every 5 years and pass a test to be able to do this. The goal is to make sure we are safely applying chemicals and not damaging the environment.
We always look to improve our production program and work very hard to make sure we supply nutritious and safe products. Our goal is to earn your trust in us. We will always provide honest answers to your question and requests for information. If you want to find out more about how we do things, you can talk to us or book a farm tour to see what we are doing on the farm.
The old Welsh saying that “an apple a day keeps the physician from earning his dough that day” is a good statement. There are many health benefits to apples. Apples contain calcium and potassium. The skin is a good source of fiber and apples contain pectin (a soluble fiber). Pectin contains flavinoids (one being quercetin) and according to the Ontario Apple growers website, research suggests this may help reduce heart disease, cancer, stroke and asthma.
Yes apples do contain sugar but, a medium apple is packed with fiber. The high fiber helps give apples a low glycemic index and load (American Diabetes Association and Diabetes Canada). Just don’t overdo it and follow the professional advice.
Other good things. Are you feeling hungry between meals? Eating an apple will help you to feel fuller quicker and maybe help you get to that next healthy meal without more snacking. If you bake and the recipe calls for oil, you can replace half the oil with apple sauce and reduce calories with minimal impact to flavour.
CARE AND HANDLING
Apples may seem very hard and solid but they are more fragile than you think. Treat them like eggs as they can bruise easily. When bruised they do not store as long as they could otherwise. Store them in the fridge or some other cool location (Ideal temperature is between 30-35C with high humidity). This helps to keep them firm and crunchy longer. Putting apples in a bowl on the counter top or the table might make a nice decoration but all apples will go soft quickly at room temperature. When baking or as apple slices, you can sprinkle with lemon to delay browning. Better yet you can use slow browning varieties like Ginger Gold, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, or Cortland – because of our growing philosophy we do not recommend the use of the newer GMO apple varieties. If this is also a concern of yours, stick with the varieties we mentioned.
If you buy a lot of apples in the fall, we recommend storing in a shallow container. The Ontario Apple Growers recommend storing in a perforated plastic bag but we recommend using paper on a shelf and laying the apples out in a single layer. One thing you do not want is your storage container to sweat as this leads to mold formation. Check your apples frequently and remove any that are over ripe or have soft spots. These apples will cause the others to go bad quicker. Aging apples give off ethylene gas and this chemical causes everything to ripen and spoil quicker. Do not store apples with potatoes. The potatoes will start to sprout and the apples will take on an “earthy” flavour.