Apple orchards reporting bumper crops
NEVADA – Remember 2012, the year with an April frost following a warm mild March that devastated vineyards and fruit orchards across the state?
That was followed the same year by the most severe drought the Midwest had endured in more than two decades.
Well, according to Dean and Judy Henry, owners of Berry Patch Farm south of Nevada, those weather extremes helped pave the way for a bumper crop of apples and other kinds of fruit in 2013.
The Henrys, along with their son, Mike Henry, have been in the orchard business since 1970. Their farm is a 100-percent pick-your- own operation.
“It’s a big crop,” Dean Henry said, “and good quality.”
He said the loss of the crop last year from the April frost left the trees with a lot of energy for this year.
“The frost was a blessing,” Judy Henry said. “The drought would have killed the trees if they had fruit on them.”
2013’s spring blooms, they said, were heavy and trees had too many apples on them requiring thinning the clusters to preserve the trees’ energy.
“We cut off thousands and thousands of apples,” Dean Henry said.
They had a crew of young people helping with the task, he said, who eventually thought they were doing something wrong by removing so many apples.
But if they had not thinned the fruit, Henry said, it would have meant having apples smaller than people would have wanted to pick.
Now that it’s apple-picking season, there are hundreds, if not thousands of large, ripe apples. These include Braeburn, Chieftain, Jonathan, Cortland, Molly’s Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Jonagold, McIntosh, Lura Red, Spy and 500 Honeycrisp trees.
Some of the apples, Judy Henry estimated, weigh upward to a half-pound each.
Managing bienniel bearing
An apple spur will produce fruit every two years. If a tree blooms heavily, one-half to three-fourths of the blooms should be removed from the spur in order for the tree to produce a moderate crop of fruit the next year.
However, Judy Henry said, not all of Berry Patch Farm’s apple blossoms were thinned. That led to a heavy number of apples on a spur, which needed to be thinned so the tree’s energy will not be exhausted and produce small fruit.
“This was the year to manage for next year’s apples,” Dean Henry said.
“Next year, we’ll have problems,” said Judy Henry. “It’ll be different.”
Other benefits, Henry said, included little trouble with pests and diseases this season.
Since there was no rotting fruit on the ground last year, Judy Henry said, there were no larvae to overwinter and infest this year’s crop.
In addition, the hot dry weather proved unsuitable for fungus growth.
In another effort to save younger trees and plants this year, the Henrys installed new irrigation drip lines in mid-July throughout the orchard.
The lines are fed by a pump drawing well water.
Pick your own
Berry Patch Farm has 40 acres under fruit cultivation including the apples, rhubarb, strawberries, gooseberries, tart cherries, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, raspberries – red, black and gold – gourds and pumpkins.
Judy Henry said the operation avoids picking and placing fruit in cold storage. Nothing is frozen. It’s a total pick-your-own farm, she said.
They have contracted with delivering fresh fruit to Des Moines-area schools.
They also contract to provide fresh fruit for area community-supported agriculture businesses.
Berry Patch is also affiliated with the Iowa Food Cooperative, designed to facilitate farmer-consumer relationships and build farms and communities through web-based marketing of Iowa products.
“We pick close to maturity dates,” Judy Henry said. “Our reputation is that customers know they can get the best taste.”
That reputation, she said, has led to repeat business, including one family from Minnesota that drives to the farm twice annually to pick berries.
“We give them a variety of good food,” Henry said. “This is not agritourism. You are just a guest on our farm.”
The farm is not organic per se, Dean Henry said, “We don’t call ourselves that, but most fruits are not sprayed.”
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