2017 Thanksgiving Shares Available!

Happy Thanksgiving from McCollum Orchards! Give thanks with this cornucopia of local abundance! Order your Thanksgiving Share box – only ten shares left – Email mccollumorchards@gmail.com.

Order by Friday Nov 17 and Pick up on Monday Nov 20 3-7pm at the farm.

What’s Included: Pie Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, 2 lb carrots, daikon radishes, 1-2 lb onions, 10 lb certified organic potatoes, Northern Spy apples, 4 garlic, fresh parsley, sage, thyme, leeks, cabbage, kohlrabi.

LockportCommunityMarket_McCollum

Locktoberfest!

Hello!! We will be at Locktoberfest this Saturday with ALL the goodies! This is our one time at market this season, so come by and say hi. Pick up:

Sweet Red Peppers
Certified Organic Potatoes
Grapes, Apples, Pears
Fall Squash
Tomatoes
Celery, Fennel
Kohlrabi
Bok Choy
Garlic and Elephant Garlic
Lettuce, Kale, Swiss Chard, Arugula, and maybe Ground Cherries!

2017 CSA is Full!

Our 2017 CSA farm member share program is now full! Thank you for your overwhelming interest. If you would like to be placed on the priority list for the 2018 season, please email mccollumorchards@gmail.com. Additionally, we will not be selling at the Lockport Community Market this season.

If you’d like to learn more about our CSA, please read further on the Our Share page. Thank You!

Heirloom Apple Orchards Get a Nod of Approval

The old apple and pear orchards got a big nod of approval from an expert organic orchardist this month.

On a windy May 11 more than two dozen people came to McCollum Orchards for a Field Day called “The Thorough Orchardist – Planningfor Success with Tree Fruit.” It was organized by the Northeast OrganicFarming Association-NY as a technical consultation for us Journeyperson participants and open to all those interested in learning about planning, planting and caring for organic orchards. We hosted it and gave a brief introduction to the farm and our vision.  The main speaker was an expert orchardist, Mike Biltonen, from Red Jacket Orchards in Genesee, which offers delicious tasting fruit juices and has almost 10 acres certified organic of its 600 acre commercial orchards.

Bracing against a chilly breeze with hot coffee and brownies, we crowded onto the loading dock of the 100-year-old apple packing shed – a fitting place to talk about orcharding.  We covered three main topics:

  • Land preparations needed for a successful orchard
  • Growing requirements of apples and pears (and other tree fruits well-suited to the area)
  • Organic management considerations, financial expectations for tree fruit crops

 

Telling our story about how History + Learning Bears Fruit!


These issues are at the top of our minds as we plan out the 5-10 acres of fruit trees for the u-pick section.  After clearing the final 8 acres this spring, we are at the stage of preparing the soil. Mike explained that, as with other perennial plants, it is much easier to minimize weeds and amend the soil before planting your crop. He recommended ordering hardy rootstock and disease-resistant tree varieties, preferably semi-dwarf or standard as opposed to full dwarfed varieties, which are less hardy. Orchards should be in north-south rows to maximize sunlight.

Pests and diseases came up often during the discussion. The list of insects and diseases for tree fruits is not long, but worth studying to know their insect life cycles and when to expect certain types of pests, such as coddling moths, apple maggots, etc. The typical organic spray is copper.

“The trees used to be thiiiis tall.”

Some orchardists are moving toward holistic methods to disrupt the insect life cycle with pheromones or use other methods like trap trees and adding beneficial insects for more of a balancing act than total control. Aspects of holistic orcharding appeal to us for a couple reasons. Namely, the old trees are simply too tall to spray effectively and we think the trees could be healthy and productive with the right holistic management.

In searching for resources for organic orcharding, apparently, you just have to know who to ask. Mike passed around a chart of disease-resistant rankings of apples that he and other organic growers have been working on for a few years. The Holistic Orchard Network, run by the author Michael Phillips, has a lot of good information and an active forum. They also have a seasonal orchard checklist, which is helpful for busy growers to stay on top of tasks.

Other issues we covered for First Year Orchard Considerations included groundcover, irrigation and fencing and the costs for orchard start-up. We got the recommendation to move away from the conventional orchard grass as a ground cover and toward a diverse group that includes wildflowers to attract pollinators and field radishes if we are concerned about soil compaction. Luckily we plan to plant the cutting flowers between the pears, so that will work out well.

The most fun was when we all trooped out into the orchards and got some hands-on demonstration by Mike on pruning and pest scouting. Now, we have worked hard to bring back the overgrown orchards. But, we know that they are not the prettiest trees. Some are rotted out in the middle. We were prepared for critique. So, our jaws hit the floor when, while looking at the apple orchard, Mike said it looks like a very healthy orchard.  Even though it is overgrown, he is excited about the trees’ potential! The unique variety, Northern Spy, is very appealing and has steady demand. With some more care over the next 3-5 years, we could get an estimated 3,000 bushels from the trees!

Once we picked our jaws up off the ground, we listened to Mike’s recommendations intently. Turns out that we are pruning them too aggressively. Instead of removing all the smaller branches, we should focus on opening up the upper canopy to let through more light to the lower branches and then start training some of the lower shoots to become branches. These will produce fruit in a few years. Training them will give us more low and mid-range bearing surface. So, less work for us in the spring time (but more work harvesting in the fall!) To train the new shoots, we can simply bend them to a 45 degree angle when they are still young and flexible and tie them to the trunk with twine and secured with a nail. If we are worried about the hollowed out branches breaking off, there is no reason we cannot just prop them with posts.

From left: Bree, Mike Biltonen, Rich

It felt great to know that we are on the right track with the trees. The recommendations we received make us more prepared to both bring back the old orchards and plant new orchards, too. Seeing the orchards’ future reminded me of the century-old year old banyan tree in Hawaii, that covers 200 square feet. Or the 150-year-old orange tree in California that has been moved twice from flooding. Or the original Red Delicious apple tree in Peru, Iowa, originally called the Hawkeye, that was cut down several times and kept re-sprouting. In this time of such tragedy in Oklahoma and uncertainty everywhere, being amongst some trees that keep giving despite a harsh climate is a small way to feel some peace and resilience.

Seeing the Veggies through the Trees (Clearing Farmland)

Big news for McCollum Orchards. This fall, we cleared eight acres of overgrown farmland. Over 30 years the property had changed from maintained orchards and farmed land to a scraggly, overgrown wooded area. The land was densely shaded. There were old, rusty trash heaps and burn piles. Beneath the tall swamp maples were rows of dead plum trees. Areas flooded where clay drain tile had broken long ago. Clearing it back to its original plane was the key to bringing the farm back to life. In order to expand production, we need more cleared land to grow vegetables, hops and fruit on.

 

Big changes in just 18 months

In October, we hired a crew recommended for agricultural land clearing. It took them a week to clear eight acres. Watching them work was fascinating. A large dozer uprooted the trees, then pushed them over to the excavator.  With its claw attachment, the excavator would lift a tree high up in the air and drop it. Repeatedly. This shook the top soil off the rootballs. (Afterward, the top soil got spread back onto the land.) The excavator would then do a maneuver where it gripped the tree in the middle, spun around and tossed it on top of the wood pile.  We are stuck with a few, strategically placed, giant piles of deadwood for now.  Whatever can’t be used for firewood will decompose. The piles also still provide the habitat that solitary bees need.

The excavator does its thing

Now, the place is starting to look like a farm again. In fact, the clearing uncovered a massive rock wall made with field boulders along the east side of the apple orchard. What we thought was a natural rise on the land is actually a manmade terrace. From the barn, the vista opens up onto the orchards and wheat field and sky. Many neighbors have stopped by to say how good it looks. Seeing the cleared land lets us visualize what the farm will look like in the future.  That’s both exciting and makes this whole endeavor very, very real!

With the land cleared, we can move ahead with the next several steps that have to be done before we can actually plant anything. First,we tested the soil on the cleared land and are waiting to find out the  composition and if we need to add any amendments.  Then, we need to clean up the stray roots and branches that were left behind and pile up the rocks that got upturned. (Ugh, what a big job.) In the spring, we will do heavy discing to loosen up the soil and smooth it out.

Taking soil cores

Next year, we expect serious weed pressure. The long dormant weed seeds have now been exposed to sunlight. We are already working on a weed management plan with Cornell Cooperative Extensionon how to best manage them next growing season.

Now, we can start to see the forest through the trees, so to speak. The land has taken shape into four main plots. We plan to farm two fields next year and the other two we will prepare for perennial plantings, like berries. We are chomping at the bit to get that beautiful soil back into production.

View of the barn, house and hops yard from the cleared field

 PS: Things that were uncovered in the land clearing: 1) two metal fire escapes 2) a V-8 Engine 3) a swing set 4) half a pick-up truck (not near the engine) 5) countless beer bottles and cans 6) a broken arrowhead 7) a doll’s head 8) a sleigh bell 9) lots of wild garlic