McDOUGAL ORCHARDS

Growing Fruit

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Growing apples takes all year. If you look closely, you can even see the promise of next years’ apple at the tip of each branch. It is a wrinkly little bud that will become the apple which you might eat a year from now, so be careful when you are picking! If you pull off those buds you are removing next years’ fruit.

Handling Apples (and our other fruit)

The more pressure you use to pick an apple off the tree, the more likely you will bruise it. Hold the apple in the palm of your hand and lightly grasp the apple. Roll the apple up towards the sky until the stem breaks from the tree. Place it into your bag carefully.

Handled and stored properly apples can have a storage life of 90 days or more. Store your apples in the refrigerator, that way they’ll last up to 10 times longer than if left at room temperature. Remember, apples absorb odors easily, so keep them away from smelly foods!

Growing Apples

Growing an apple tree is much more complicated than planting a seed in the ground. Since apples do not grow true to their seeds, young trees that have been grown in a nursery from cuttings are transplanted to the orchard site. These trees have a desired apple variety grafted (attached by tissue splicing) onto a root stock selected for characteristics of size and vigor. Most apple trees in our orchard are on dwarf stock (these are the smaller trees that you’ll see around the orchard), allowing for more efficient use of valuable land and labor. You can still find some old stock in the main orchard. We refer to it as our “nostalgia block”. It takes about 3 to 4 years after planting for any apples to be produced from a newly planted tree. Apple trees can live for over 100 years.

A Year in Apples

Winter

A number of agricultural meetings and conferences take place. We try to attend most of them, we always learn something!

In early February the crew starts the job of pruning all of our apple trees. Branches are cut off to allow for better sunlight to reach the fruit. Our crew has to look at a tree that has no leaves and try to imagine it fully leafed out and loaded with apples in order to know where to make the best cuts.

Very cold temperatures (below zero F) can damage the roots if we have no snow cover. Snow is an insulator and keeps the ground at just below 32 degrees. The winter of 2003/04 we had a cold snap, -20 for a week with no snow, and we lost around 1,000 trees during the spring and summer. In 2005 there were still signs of trees that were affected by that one cold snap.

Spring

The cuttings from the trees are put in the middle of the rows. When the ground is somewhat dried, we run over them with a mower to “recycle” them back into the soil. Extra chips are spread under newly planted trees as a mulch to keep weed growth down and put nitrogen and carbon back into the soil.

The stone fruit trees are pruned in the spring.

In mid-May the apple trees come into full bloom and are covered in apple blossoms. It is quite a beautiful site to see. In order for the apple blossoms to become apples, they must be cross pollinated (the pollen from the blossom of one variety must travel to the blossom of another variety before fertilization can occur). If we do not have our own beehives, we rent about 10 to help the wild pollinators in this process of cross pollination. Cold and rainy spring weather can affect the bees as they tend to hang out in the hives until it warms up and stops raining. This can affect the apple crop if it rains a lot during bloom. Frost is also a potential enemy during bloom and could destroy the entire crop.

After pollination occurs and seeds begin to develop, the petals from the blossoms fall off, the eating part of the apple starts to grow. There are generally too many apples on the tree so we thin many of them off, either chemically or by hand.. This process lets the tree put more energy into fewer apples, and we end up with larger apples rather than a lot of smaller ones.

Summer

We practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in the orchard, monitoring and treating for pests and diseases that will threaten the crop. For instance, for apple maggot, we place apple-red spheres coated with a sticky substance around the perimeter of the orchard blocks. Once a week we count the apple maggot flies stuck on the red spheres. When the number of flies reaches a certain threshold (so many bugs per sphere,) the trees are sprayed to keep these pests from laying eggs in the ripening apples. This particular pest makes the apples unmarketable. Chemicals are expensive and they take labor to apply. The less spraying we do the better for everyone. We spray at night or in the early morning to protect our pollinators as much as possible. (see About Us for more on our spray policy)

Some summer pruning is done to remove fully developed leaves and get maximum sunlight to the apples. Root suckers (shoots at the base of the tree) are cut so the tree puts more energy into the apples. Summer carries the risk of hail during thunderstorms. Hail will dimple, cut and/or bruise the apples. We hold our breath every time a thunderstorm passes!

Fall - Harvest

Mid to Late August we open up for early apples and continue picking different varieties of apples until late October.

Once we close, all the orchards are mowed, the raspberry patch is mowed off, the corn maze is mowed and chopped up, all the growing fields are harrowed and planted with a cover crop, any cover plastic and drip tape are removed and discarded.

Our equipment is winterized and stored in one of the barns. Then it’s time to catch up on paperwork and before you know it, Thanksgiving is coming up! We find ourselves getting ready for the holidays and enjoying a little rest and relaxation. We finally have a chance to look back on the previous year and start planning for the one to come!

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Pick Your Own

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Fall Raspberries

Farm Store

  • Apples
  • Apple Cider (hand pressed)
  • Veggies
  • Flowers
  • Local Honey and Maple Syrup
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Capt. Jack's Cider Donuts
  • Pumpkins and Gourds
  • Winter Squash
  • Mums
  • Fall Decor

Location

  • 20 min. off the ME Tpke
  • 90 min. from Boston MA
  • 90 min. from Manchester NH
  • 45 min. from Portland ME
  • 45 min. from Portsmouth NH

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  • Mixed Fruit CSA

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