...by Gary Mount
by Gary Mount
When I was a boy growing up on my father's farm on Route 1 in West Windsor, I was proud that we were "fruit growers". I wouldn't even think of us as "farmers". (This distinction is prevalent throughout the fruit growing world today -- at least in the minds of the fruit growers.)
My father had many friends who grew potatoes in the Cranbury-Plainsboro area, but they were "farmers". Each year he would invite his friends to come over on Thanksgiving morning and hunt on our farm, which was 350 acres between Route 1 and the Delaware-Raritan Canal. After hunting, my mother would serve breakfast to all--maybe 15 to 20 men. It was exciting -- my brother Lee and I would go along with bows and arrows that we had made from apple tree shoots called suckers. The pheasants and rabbits were quite safe from us, but we loved being allowed to go. And -- the guests were farmers; we were fruit growers. (My brother and I did better with the breakfast than the hunting.)
Times have changed. I don't hunt anymore, and I have become a farmer. I grow lots of fruit, but included in the 36 crops at Terhune Orchards are many types of vegetables, including potatoes. I have been growing them for about four years. One of the things that I like about them is the great variety of types: Large, small, extra small, round, and oblong; white, red, blue, rose, and yellow skin; and white, blue, yellow and purple flesh (the interior). Add many different tastes to all these, and you start to have an interesting crop.
I must say that I got a bit over-enthusiastic this year with all the types, and planted about 18 different ones. I also planted a lot of each -- so much so that now that it is time to pick my beloved apples, many of my apple bins are filled with potatoes! I can't believe it! So much for the fruit grower-farmer dichotomy. I am now encouraged by wife Pam to be less enthusiastic next year ("We don't have room in the farm store for all those potatoes!") But we are enjoying them for dinner -- the different flavors, textures, and appearances are a great treat to the taste buds of this fruit grower/farmer. And, my first seed catalogs for next year's planting are now arriving. There are some new types that I would like to try.
My Friend, Vernon Horn
by Gary Mount
Vernon is gone now, but his enthusiasm for life and willingness to help us is something Pam and I will remember.
Vernon Horn, of Bucks County Pennsylvania died this past winter at the age of 79. He was my mentor in many things and was generous to me with his ideas, enthusiasm and friendship. His influence has guided me in much of what we have done here at the farm.
I first met Vernon when Pam and I lived in Bucks County, near Doylestown after returning to the US from three years in the Peace Corps and traveling around the world. I came home from my job as a real estate salesman to find him in our kitchen arguing about education with Pam. They barely said hello--so passionate was their debate. Vernon was a quarry owner near to the house that we rented whose visit was prompted by none of his trucks and paving crews getting much done because of a certain young woman (Pam) mowing the lawn with a push mower in a bikini.
That first debate was not the last as we became friends with Vernon, his wife and four children. We visited them for Sunday evening dinner almost every week for the five years that we lived there and then met them for somewhere for dinner once a week for two or three years after we bought Terhune's and moved to Princeton.
Vernon's enthusiasm for life was stunning. His ideas were, as we say today, "out of the box". I haven't know anyone else who was so self directed--enough to do something--as Vernon did--like deciding to start a stone quarry and so buying a farm and started to dig.
I had taken a job that I disliked and was becoming a "do the minimum" type of guy. I worked for my brother Bill, the most generous boss anyone could ever have, but the job just was not for me. That was making my living by taking a percentage of what someone else made. I would value much higher the chance to produce or make something. Vernon was so different. Each Sunday when we visited, he would fidget and become restless in anticipation of the work week that would start the next morning. He loved his work and in the case of quarrying and contracting, he loved the equipment that went with it.
I remember the time when Pam and I wanted to vacation in Florida , meeting college roommate Andy Zimmerman and his wife in Key West. We did not have enough money to fly, so decided to drive. Vernon and Edith (he called her "Chicken") said they would drive down with us and fly back later. We didn't realize that meant non-stop. And when we crossed the Florida state line--exhausted--we just had to drive around Jacksonville looking at equipment for sale. How he knew the name and location of every dealer, I don't know. But we did visit them all and had a commentary of every truck, bulldozer, loader and rock crusher.
His attitudes and opinions have rubbed off on me. Buying a farm and becoming farmers was an unusual, "out of the box" type of thing to do in 1975. Having graduated from Princeton, I was highly imbued with the idea that I should be a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief of something like that. At least I should commute to Wall Street or become a captain of industry. Knowing Vernon helped us see that we could do this and if we thought it worthwhile, that was reason enough.
When Pam and I came to Terhune's, we knew that making apple cider would be a big part of our business. I had never made cider and had not even seen it being made, but it looked like the cider equipment that came with the farm was in need of upgrading. Vernon came over and we worked all day, all night and all the next day creating a new cider plant. I still can hardly believe it. I had thought I knew a better way and Vernon helped me do it.
One of the other big influences that Vernon had on me was about money and financing. Thirty seven years ago, buying a farm in the area in order to farm it was not done. The Mercer County Agricultural Agent, Charlie Holmes, told us that no one in our county had purchased a farm for farming in over twenty years. Lucky for us, Charlie was a fruit specialist and was an invaluable help in the early years.
We had no money to purchase the farm and get started, but somehow we managed to borrow it all. Part of our financing came from the Farmers Home Administration's farm ownership loan program. We had a visit and inspection by the local FHA farmer's committee who, despite having seen farm after farm selling out because of unprofitability, believed in our potential and approved the loan. Owing so much money was daunting but Vernon's tongue in cheek comment was that he himself never wanted to be a millionaire. He just wanted to owe a million. I think his cavalier approach to debt helped him--and us--focus on our enterprise and goals.
by Gary Mount
Here at Terhune Orchards, when we talk about the Queen, many would think we refer to wife Pam. That's not far wrong, but there is another Queen--The Queen of Fruits, The Peach. I have a love-hate relationship with peaches. I love the way they taste, the aroma, the texture, their brief, intense season. But I hate with a passion how hard they are to grow and how short a life a peach tree has. It has taken me a while to learn how to grow and care for peach trees. They are very susceptible to disease, to insects, root diseases, and low temperature injury in the dead of winter. I have learned to mound up each row to keep the roots from getting saturated with water and we actually paint the tree trunks white to keep them from warming and starting to flow sap during bright, sunny winter days. If that happens, the trunks can split when the temperature drops at night. I did not have to work at making the winters warmer--that seems to be happening without my help, but the other problems have take a while to address.
But what is so special about peaches? After all, I grew up on an apple farm--all apples--300 acres of them. My father and uncle did plant about 20 acres of peaches one time, but soon decided that peaches were not for them. My uncle had a summer house in the Poconos and our family had a house at the shore. Apples are a crop that they could leave on the weekends in the summers. My father and uncle liked that. Not so with peaches. Peach harvest is right in the middle of the summer. Peaches need to picked, sorted, packed and marketed every day! The peaches were soon pushed out. More apples were planted and life went back to normal.
When Pam and I bought Terhune Orchards in 1975, the farm came with apples, pears----and peaches. It was a good thing to have them because cash flow was terribly tight in the summer, even though having peaches meant we had to stay right on it all summer. Keep in mind that in those days, three crops were all there was for us--not anything like the 36 crops we grow now.
We had many types of peaches. Many were historic, even in 1975. Blake, Sunhigh, Yellow Hale, White Hale, Raritan Rose, Summercrest, Iron Mountain to name a few. Some were greenish, some were ugly, but they all tasted great! Summercrest was one. Oblong, with a greenish cast, ugly, lumpy, but what a taste. Customers who knew them never told anyone else. They were afraid the Summercrest would be gone too fast. I especially remember Iron Mountain because it came ready to pick about a month after all the other peaches were gone. We only had a few trees which seemed to increase their desirability in our customers' eyes. It is vivid in my mind what occurred that first fall. Pam was sitting on the floor of the farmstore, three year old daughter Reuwai was sleeping in a playpen nearby, and Pam was eight months pregnant with our second child while she sat there sorting those Iron Mountains. Quite a few customers were leaning over her, demanding a basket, of which there were not that many. Invariability, the first customer wanted at least three baskets, much to the dismay of the others and of dear Pam.
The historic nature of the peaches also showed in the age and health of the trees. They were tall, old, weak and poor producers. They also died fast. Many were so tall that not a single peach could be picked without a stepladder. Because of the tree height and having to carry the ladders our harvest crew was made up of pickers and luggers. When a picker's basket was full he would shout, "Lugger" to have someone come and give him a new basket while taking the full one to the truck. The truck was a 1939 Chevrolet 1.5 ton stake body--the very one that we sell firewood from next to the farmstore each winter.
Since that time we have planted and replanted our peach trees. I have gotten them to live longer--18 to 20 years instead of around 12. We manage to keep them low enough so that ladders are not needed. And we grow newer varieties and newer fruits, such as nectarines (peaches without the fuzz on the skin), and donut peaches. The new varieties all look better--we have to be diligent in choosing ones that also taste good.
We have made a lot of progress in growing. In face we are almost to the point of not having to use any insecticides in the peach orchard. We still need fungicides because peaches are very susceptible to decay, but insecticides are almost out.
The story of how that has come about is just so great! Most insects that attack peaches spend part of their life cycle as a moth. The males and females mate, the female lays eggs from which hatch a caterpillar, which is the infamous worm in the peach. I ask my school tour groups what is worse than a worm in your peach? They usually get it--half a worm! Corny, I know.
Conventional culture of peaches uses a pesticide to kill the newly hatched worm before it can go into the peach. But we are using a technique that avoids pesticide use to control the worm. We take advantage of the knowledge that male moths find the female moth by following her scent or "pheromone" through the air. We take a synthetic replica of the scent which is impregnated in a twist tie (like that used on bread wrappers) and hang it throughout the peach orchard. When the males come, there is so much scent, they are totally confused. They cannot find the females. There is no mating, no egg laying and no worms. Amazing. I must admit that I never imagined such a clever technique.
We are about ready to pick peaches. It's that time of year. As we do, I know that I need to replant my peach orchard soon. It will take the new trees three to four years to come into production and by then the old orchard will need to come out. I have been attending meetings on new varieties, talking to Rutgers specialists and am ready to order trees. The peaches will not be ugly, nor green. The old varieties are gone. I have been looking among the new ones for those that taste best.
Water, Water, Not Everywhere -- Part III
by Gary Mount
I can't believe it! I have written about water twice before -- in 1999, and 2001. I related my efforts to drill wells on our farms at Terhune Orchards. Since then, I have expanded our irrigation system, drilling some more and burying miles of plastic pipe around and between our farms.
I have always been interested in water supply issues. I grew up on a farm in West Windsor that bordered the Delaware and Raritan canal, which now supplies water for about a third of New Jersey's residents. When Pam and I were in the Peace Corps in 1967, one of the projects that I worked on was a water supply system for the small island where we were stationed. (I am pleased to report that now, 45 years later, it is not only still working, but the islanders have doubled its size!) In the 1980's, I was a New Jersey water commissioner with responsibility for the D& R Canal that I knew so well from my childhood.
Water availability for agriculture is a huge issue, not just for me, but for the state, the country and the world. In comparison with the rest of the world, we have a lot of water in the U.S. and New Jersey has a better supply than most states. But not all of New Jersey -- in some areas, such as ours, the water supply is tough. Since 1999, most of my attempts to find water have been failures. We would find 2-3 gallons of water per minute -- maybe enough for a house supply, but not worthwhile for farming. I have been lucky to find one good well at our pick-your-own orchard on Van Kirk Road and a not so good, but usable one at our other farm on that road where we grow wine grapes and organic vegetables. I've tried the help of dowsers (two) who use wires or forked branches held in their hands, a hydro-geologist who used maps of sub surface rock formations to advise us where to drill, and another geologist who measured electrical interference patterns below the soil surface all across the farm.
These experiences have led me to a few conclusions. One is that no one really knows where to find water in this area. There are no aquifers below the surface. Water is found only in fracture zones in otherwise solid rock. A second thought is that if you do find a good amount of water, you better go right out and buy a lottery ticket, because it is your lucky day! And finally, if your wife realizes how much you are spending on all those dry holes in the ground ($15,000+ each), some serious discussions are going to take place about how many more you can drill!
This summer is proving disastrously dry for many farms in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest. In New Jersey, conditions were very dry in June and the first half of July. Luckily for us, the work I had done in drilling wells and burying distribution lines paid off -- we had water available for our crops. It is, however, a lot of work to get everything watered. I also have to coordinate my use of water for the fruit and sweet corn with Emiliano Martinez, our long time employee who grows most of the other vegetables. Between us, we keep the water flowing day and night. It's a process that involves moving a lot of equipment and we get pretty tired. When we got one inch of rain on July 20, it was a blessing. Farmers call that a "million dollar rain."
I have worked with the federal agency called the Natural Resource Conservation Service to develop our irrigation system. The agency has helped me be a better steward of our water resource while still providing enough water for great crops. One neat technique I've learned to use is soil moisture monitoring. At some 26 different crop areas, we have buried moisture sensors. Usually we place one shallow sensor and one deep one next to each other. Every day or two, one of our employees goes around the farm with a meter and we put the resulting reading on a chart. This helps me avoid under or over watering.
I no longer fear having to watch, as in 1998, when some of my crops died for lack of water. I am thinking of drilling one more well to provide a better supply to one of our farms. If we find water, I'm buying a lottery ticket.
A Bug is A Bug is A Bug
By Gary Mount
The same can be said about disease as well, though not as well off the tongue. As a farmer growing fruit and vegetables in central New Jersey, I have to pay a lot of attention to bugs and disease. We are close to eastern ports, where many insects entered the country and have a moist and humid climate, just right for disease. This is my 37th year as a farmer and I face the same problems—with some new ones added.
I sometimes get asked why it is such a problem now. After all, humans have been growing fruit and vegetables for a long time. Part of the answer is in today’s food supply system. Simplistically put, everyone eats but only a few produce food. I think it is about 2% of the population in the US. Farmers grow lots of one crop in one place. Growing problems are concentrated. Diseases and insects are not limited by a lack of a host plant to attack—there are plenty. And farmers grow the crops to sell. The product has to be attractive and wholesome—not infested by insects or disease—in order to be saleable. In contrast, humans in the past grew a lot of their own food. Not only was there not a lot of one crop in one place but standards were not as high. Not many fruits and vegetables were eaten raw and bad spots were simply cut out before cooking. By contrast, I had a customer last year inform me that she threw out any ear of corn with a worm in the tip. Really! And in the case of apples and pears in earlier times, most was consumed in a liquid state—that is hard cider or Perry. Blemishes or insect bites were not a problem. If a pie was to be baked, it just meant sorting through to find the best apples—the rest could go to cider.
O.K., I have established that we cause our own problems. But what to do about it? In the middle of the 1900’s, farmers began to use pesticides. They were able to produce better products and had less waste. Insects and disease were reduced. Great! But not completely great. Some of the materials applied to the plants were fine but some were not. There was not enough information available about the materials—pesticides—and about the insects and disease. Some of the pesticides lasted too long. Some caused harm to animals and humans. Some killed predacious insects as well as the fruit or vegetable harming ones. There was a long way to go.
My father was a farmer in the 20’s through 60’s. He farmed during the time of great change as far as insect and disease control. I am continually amazed at how little was known about insects, disease and pesticides back then. If something worked, it was used. Today’s farmers have so much more information available. Cooperative Extension provides research and advice—in New Jersey it is from Rutgers University. The State and federal government agencies provide oversight—as in all things that is not always 100% good, but then, what is?
Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is a technique that takes the understanding of the disease and insect problems, their interaction with the pesticides or other control methods available and develops bio-rational approaches to producing a farm product. It helps me produce crops with the minimum of outside inputs. IPM comes up with novel techniques to produce wholesome products. My favorite is the use of pheromones.
Insects that spend part of their lives as moths find each other by the use of pheromones, which are identifying scent like substances produced by the female moth to attract male moths. Think of pheromones as perfume. By making a synthetic pheromone and putting it inside a sticky trap, we are able to attract male moths. We can know when they are active and when they might attack our crop. The Codling Moth is the infamous “worm in the apple”. Apple growers have known for a long time that the codling moth is active in the month of June, but never exactly when. My father had to spray 5 or 6 weekly sprays to be sure of protection. With the information that we now get from the use of pheromones, we can protect our apples from codling moth with just one spray! To an apple grower that is really great. But pheromones are now being used in another way, called mating disruption or the confusion technique. The names are descriptive—the technique is brilliant. We put a twist tie, like on a bread wrapper that contains the pheromone on each tree in the orchard. Male moths are attracted in great numbers because of the “perfume”. But the trick is that when they get there, so much of the scent is present, it is impossible for them to find the females. Thus no mating, no egg laying by the females and no worms in the apples! No sprays for codling moth are needed!
The great increase in the amount of information available to a farmer is especially a good thing for me in that I am now growing many crops here at Terhune Orchards as certified organic. Growing crops without chemical inputs and using an understanding of how things grow and interact with the environment around them requires a detailed understanding of the relationships involved. I like organic growing because I feel that if a crop can be grown and marketed profitably without chemical inputs, why not? This year I am growing a block of apples organically—but not for the first time. This is my third attempt; the times before were in other orchards in 1978 and 1985. The first two times were failures. The apples were unappealing and were not salable. The trouble? You can guess my answer which is that not enough information was available. As far as organic growing is concerned, a complete understanding of disease, insect and plant interactions is needed. Right now, we are smarter than we were, but there is still a long ways to go. I am getting help from Rutgers Extension and the IPM program and I think (knock on wood) that my organic apple growing will be more successful than it was in 1978 and 1985. Check with me in the fall to find out.
Another good thing about the increased information available concerns the stink bug. This particular insect, the brown marmorated stink bug, is a newcomer to the United States. It has been here about 8 years and has spread to almost all states. For a fruit and vegetable grower, it is devastating. It is very mobile and can easily go from one crop to another. It damages crops in all of its life stages which means that if it is present, it is eating. We have few insect predators here that attack it—maybe controlling only about 5%. (In Southeast Asia, where it came from, predators control about 65%). And most of the pesticides that we have do not kill it. Last year, stink bugs moved into my orchards right at the end of harvest—maybe 3 or 4 days before the last apples were picked. On those later varieties, we had 55% damage from stink bug. There is a tremendous effort underway to gain an understanding of this insect. But—there is still a long ways to go.
Sweet Apple Cider--Making The Best
by Gary Mount
I have come full circle in my attempts to make the best apple cider that I can at Terhune Orchards. Make those two full circles. Ideas that I tried when I first started, then abandoned, then tried again in a different way are now either back in or back out. What I have found over the years is that there is not just one way to make apple cider. But, just keep to the basics and you’ll be all right.
I had a call today from a tenth grader who was doing a report--"How do you make cider?", she asked. That part is actually pretty simple. There is only one ingredient--apples. We inspect the apples, then wash them and grind them into "pomace". We then squeeze the juice out of the pomace, strain or screen filter the cider, pasteurize it and then cool it. Simple, right?--so long as you keep to the basics.
What are the basics? Start with sound, ripe apples. Keep everything as clean as you can. Don’t use just one variety of apples. Look for a blend of different types.
Still pretty simple, right? Well, it is, although getting it wrong is not that hard. One of the most common mistakes in cider making is using immature apples. Maturity in an apple means the starches in the fruit have mostly changed to sugar. Eating a starchy apple will bring out adjectives like woody, tasteless, green or mealy.
And just what is a “sound” apple? I tell the cider makers here at Terhune Orchards that if they would not eat the apple, then don’t let it go into the cider press. No decay, no major bruises. Just that simple, but it makes a big difference.
Keeping everything as clean as possible is critical as well. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes, when we are only making four or five hundred gallons, it takes longer to clean up afterwards than to press the cider! Items to be cleaned: Bin dumper, sorting rollers, apple washer, bucket elevator, apple grinder, pomace (ground up apple) tank, pomace pump, the cider press itself, press cloths, cider pumps, cider filter, storage tanks, pasteurizer, and jug filler. Using a pressure washer at 1000 psi does the trick for most items.
Finally there is cooling. Each of our four hundred gallon storage tanks has its own two horsepower cooling system. Good quality cider is made without preservatives. At warm temperatures, fermentation starts quickly. Refrigeration (as close to 32 degrees as possible) is essential.
That’s about it—except for the actual blend of varieties that we use. Each cider maker has a preference. The exact mix usually changes over the season and is not often divulged. Asking is like asking a Maine lobsterman where he catches his lobsters.
Learning a Crop
by Gary Mount
At Terhune Orchards, I grow 36 different crops that we sell at the farm, at farmers' markets and by delivering to schools and restaurants. Learning each crop has kept me busy and interested for much of the past 36 years.
When Pam and I started farming in 1975 we made friends with Bob and Dottie Dobbs, farmers in Camden County, New Jersey. They were a bit older than us and had been farming for quite a while. Bob grew some 15-20 different crops! At that time I was growing three crops--apples, peaches and pears and I just could not understand how he could do it. How could he keep all the different ones separate and know what to do and when for each crop?
In the early 1980's Pam and I realized that I had to learn how to grow some other crops. To make our business prosper, we needed a greater variety of things to sell. There was a gasoline shortage then and for our customers to burn two gallons of gas to come and get one gallon of cider just was not making sense. We have added crops ever since--one or two a year with our most recent crop being wine grapes. Each crop grows a bit differently, has its own requirements and is harvested and stored differently. My favorite author, John McPhee, wrote of riverboat captains who learned one turn of the river at a time. They would understand learning a crop.
Such learning is not automatic. Although I grew up on a farm and am the 10th generation of my family to farm in this area, these things do not come automatically. My father grew only one crop (apples) and even at that, I did not learn how to grow apples. I learned how to work, but not the why of what I was doing.
My most important teacher has been the Rutgers Cooperative Extension system. Each county in the country has an agricultural extension office. In New Jersey these offices are connected to Rutgers, which is the land grant university for New Jersey. Started by federal legislation in 1914, cooperative extension has provided assistance to farmers (and now homeowners) ever since. Extension's contribution to American agricultural productivity cannot be overstated but for me it has been very personal. When we started farming we were lucky to have an agent in Mercer County who specialized in fruit production. I think he visited my farm once a week, on average, the first few years. Having someone like that "in my corner" was so helpful. In addition, I started to go to meetings and build my library. The New Jersey State Horticultural Society has sponsored an annual convention for many years and for the past 36 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, jointly with the Pennsylvania and Maryland societies. I attend every session that I can and have hardly missed a year. I also travel to the International Fruit Tree Association meetings--35 years in a row there. This year an older fellow member there told me how well he remembered Pam and I, years ago, in the front row, asking questions whenever we could. There are "twilight meetings" for fruits and vegetables held at different farmer's farms. There are a lot of meetings.
I have learned crops in other ways. I have been lucky to have had talented and dedicated employees. One, Emiliano Martinez, has been a great teacher of how to grow many vegetables. I have learned to listen.
I mentioned building my library. That brings me to my latest crop, wine grapes. Books on wine grape growing are like grapes in a bunch--many. I have a good number of them. My farm staff often laugh at me when I tell them to wait a minute and run to my office in the farmhouse to look something up.
Growing so many crops spreads me a bit thin. I am not as good at growing each crop as I might want to be. But I would have it no other way. Growing just one or two crops--I just couldn't do it. This week I have just finished my planting plan for the year. While many of my crops are on bushes and trees that do not need to be planted each year, most vegetables and flowers do . They are in the plan(not asparagus or rhubarb). Each variety of each crop has an entry in the plan for each time it is planted. Some are planted eight times in a season. The total number of entries is north of 650. I can't believe it. But then, I am thinking of my next crop. I have just planted artichokes.
Smoothing the Land
by Gary Mount
My latest adventure on the farm does not involve planting, growing, picking, storing, processing or sell of our crops. It is a process to "get ready" to plant a crop. A little mundane sounding perhaps, but it has turned out to be interesting.
The area on the 65 acre farm where I have planted 4.5 acres of wine grapes seems to be a pretty good location for grape growing. Expanding the planting is another matter--there is Lake Terhune right in the way. The field to the south of the 4.5 acres is where I want to plant more grapes. It has a gentle overall slope to the south except for one area. Ok--it is not really a lake, but there is a depression followed by a ridge before the gentle slope continues. Heavy rains collect in the low area, creating Lake Terhune--maybe 6 to 12 inches deep. Although the water eventually soaks in/evaporates, there is no way grape vines are going to tolerate sitting there with their feet in the water. I had nearly decided to give up the idea of planting in that area when I talked to my friends from NRCS.
You can guess from the acronym that NRCS is something to do with government--it is Natural Resource Conservation Service, as federal agency that, among other things, helps farmers with conservation plans and practices for their farm s. They suggested that I do a practice called land smoothing. It is sort of simple except for the scale of the project. The topsoil is pushed to the side--maybe 8 to 12 inches worth of topsoil--then the subsoil is graded to eliminate Lake Terhune but still provide a gentle slope and finally the topsoil is pushed back on top. Simple? Yes, except for the scale. Altogether, ten acres are involved. I suppose in the time of large development and the like, such a project is next to nothing, but for us it seems like working on the Egyptian pyramids.
All has been going well. Our contractor, Tom Posh of Patriot Excavating, seems to be doing a good job. Until, that is, this week when we have had 9 inches of rain! All work has stopped and we are waiting for it to dry.
There is a good side to the delay. My three year old grandson, Becket, lives next to the ten acre field. He loves tractors, bulldozers and all sorts of construction equipment. He is happy to see the soil being pushed back and forth and he is happy to see the land being smoothed.
Casting Calls at Terhune Orchards
by Gary Mount
There are some amusing moments in our life on the farm but none so much as when the photo/video/commercial production people come to call.
At this point you all should know that whenever anyone asks anything, wife Pam says yes. Not necessarily the same response they would get from me. For instance, when Guinness Book of World Records asked if we would host a photo shoot of the world champion pumpkin carver--that's 24.03 seconds to carve a pumpkin--the answer was yes. Of course, it was Halloween time when things are pretty busy but then who is going to say no to 50 carved pumpkins an hour?
I am sure there are good photographers in the US, but this group just had to have a photographer from England--with two assistants--but after all, a ton of pumpkins carved in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 49 seconds cannot have just any old photographer. One thing we didn't know was that the carver did not clean out the inside of the pumpkins--that was our job! One Ton!
Another group that got to Pam first wanted to film a segment of the show "Kitchen Nightmares." The producers wanted to re-make a restaurant in Cranbury. The idea was to serve everything fresh-Jersey Fresh-in February. The people that do these shows seem to come from New York where all of the food grows in the supermarkets. Out here on the farm, providing produce in February was a challenge. But we were one of the few farm markets open in the winter, so one day was spent shooting the farm store. By this time the producers knew who to ask when they wanted someone to set up a farmers market on Main Street in Cranbury, right in front of the restaurant. Pam loaded up our truck and set up right in the middle of town. It looked great! Unfortunately, it had not been mentioned that none of the produce could actually be sold--no permits. But the story had a happy ending. The star chef of the show turned out to be a really nice guy and as far as we could see, was 100% right about everything in the restaurant-especially when it came to the value of using our local fresh produce, The show ended with him taking a bite of one of our apples and saying, "That's a really good apple." Having the show run again and again has not hurt.
Our biggest, best, most interesting casting call was when a company asked if they could shoot a commercial on the farm. Again, they got to Pam first. No matter that is was to be in mid-September, just about as hectic as it gets on the farm or that one whole day would be shooting in the farm store.
I say company, but really although there were about 200 people here for three days, only 2 actually worked for the company--really they were the company. Everyone else was, as we say in the farming game, "day haul." There was a person for every possible job and then a backup person for that one. Even the person to comb the actors' hair in-between takes had a backup!
Two very large trucks came and unloaded enough equipment to fill our driveway and parking area. When the farm store was filmed, nothing could be moved all day. Every item had to stay in exactly the same position. The production company paid for the extra farm store staff to greet each customer (after they navigated their way past the mountain of equipment), explain what was happening and then go around to the back of the store to fill their order.
The scenes in our kitchen were the most fun. First pictures were taken of the whole room. Then all visible items were packed up and stored in the trucks. Following that, we got to see what the advertising people thought should be in a "real" farmer's kitchen. We did have to laugh when not one of the kitchen chairs matched another. After the shoot, some of the 200 people got out the pictures and replaced all of our stuff exactly as it was!
Every single item of equipment was used and all 200 people had their task. We soon learned that the most important person was the cameraman. Sort of like 95% of the Army existing to support the 5% who are the infantry. His every request brought immediate response. We also learned the value of the backup. On the last day, the cameraman became ill--actually had to go to the hospital. The backup who had sat around for two days came into his own and finished the job.
We got paid for the use of our farm--although I am sure it was a small fraction of the total cost. We had three days with some very nice people and our eyes were opened to whole new world.
We never got to see our farm in a national ad campaign. The product being advertised was a drug called Vioxx which was taken off the market shortly after the commercial was filmed.
Did I mention that I also learned to say "no" less often?
As a farmer, I am especially aware that almost all that we have comes from the sun. Our farm is a "solar farm" converting sunshine to food. Of course, it is much more than this, but just thinking about my crops each year makes me very aware
This year we have a new reason to focus on sunshine. At the end of 2009 our solar electrical system on our new barn was completed. We had situated the barn so that one roof faced south for maximum benefit from the sun. At the beginning of the construction process, we contracted with a company to install the system, but then came the big question--how big should we make the system?
On an existing structure there can be records going back years to show electrical use. But with our new barn with refrigeration and atmosphere generating equipment, it is really a shot in the dark (no pun intended) to know how much power we will need. After a few years we will have some sort of average, but our annual use will depend so much on how many apples we store, how many peaches or pears that we pick to put in and for how long.
We did not want to build too big. The credit from the power company for generating electricity goes way down once you produce more than you use. We thought it over and decided that we would probably need all that we could get. We filled the roof with panels.
This week has been a good week. We got connected by the power company and were able to start generating electricity. A meter was installed that measures electricity in and electricity out. So the panels just sit there doing their thing. Not much goes on at night, but on a sunny day, oh boy!
We now have installed a monitoring screen in the Terhune Farmstore to show what is going on out there on top of the barn. It was installed today and on your next visit to the farm you can see the whole story--that is, as long as the sun keeps shining.
This fall has been a busy and exciting time at the farm. One of the items of greatest interest is our new barn. We have found that many of our visitors seem to end up near or in the barn. Their comments and questions are many. One comment I particularly like is “They don’t make barns like this anymore.” Questions like who designed it?—Jerry Ford of Ford3 Architects, Who built it?—Sylvan Stoltzfus Builders from Lancaster, Pa. Exterior siding is cypress, The roof is standing seam painted steel, interior framing of the dry storage area is called “timber framing”—actually just like our 160 year old barn, the wooden beams are hemlock with oak pegs holding it together.
The timber frame section is for storing “stuff”, also known as Gary’s Treasures. We’ll also store items which are presently stored in the old barn as we are working on plans for that to become home to Terhune’s new winery.
I might mention that there is some family “discussion” as to the sole use of the timber framed area as storage of Gary’s Treasures. It has turned out to be a wonderful area for events—dinners, barn dances, parties. Groan!! Gary’s Treasures may have to be packed rather tightly together—in the back!
The section of the barn on the left as you look at it contains three cold storage rooms. Two large rooms keep fruit at 32 degrees and one smaller room can keep melons, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers at 55 degrees, or apples at 32 degrees, or frozen items at 0 degrees.
This magnificent assemblage of coldness is powered by the (noisy) equipment in a small room off the timber framed area. There are two 30 horsepower cooling compressors. Both are needed for rapid cool down of apples in the fall. Only one is needed for maintaining the temperature after that. The walls and ceilings of the cold storage rooms are six inch urethane foam to keep heat infiltration at a minimum.
Another machine keeps room 2 at a low oxygen level to keep the apples in good condition of firmness and crispness for longer storage. Room 2 is kept locked during this storage time and is well aired out before anyone goes in to remove apples. Making room 2 operate properly has been a challenge. It has to be air tight to prevent oxygen from getting in the room. We check this by putting a slight air pressure in the room and then squirting soapy water on possible trouble spots—of which there has been too many.
Having this cold storage right on the farm is turning out to be even better that I thought it would be. I am able to put all of each day’s apple picking in 32 degrees storage each evening. When we need the apples to sell, we open the door and there they are!
As I write this there are two things left to do. This month, solar panels will be installed on the south side of the roof . They will generate electricity to offset the cost of running the refrigeration equipment. And the last will be lightning rods. My friend Dick Lee, of Lee Turkey Farm visited last week (to see the new barn) and reminded me. Many a barn has been lost to fire caused by lighting. Lightning rods reduce the chances of lighting striking the building and if it does, the lightning rods are grounded to provide a safer path for the lightning to reach the earth.
Today was a red letter day. This morning I went to pick up the building permit to start construction on our new barn. This project has been under consideration for the past 20 to 30 years and finally, we are starting.
It might be asked, What is the big deal. People build barns all the time. But my brothers tell me I have a way of making things more complicated than they need to be. I don’t know if I agree, but then this barn has turned out to be more than anticipated. One of the big purposes of building is to store apples. For many—actually many, many—years we have loaded apples on trucks to store at the farm of a peach grower friend in Richwood (southern) New Jersey. Being primarily a peach grower, he doesn’t have as much need for storage space in the fall. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, it is and we are grateful to the Heilig family for helping us all these years.
However it is not the best for the apples to ride that distance and then that long—sometimes three or four days—to be refrigerated. Each day out of refrigeration reduces the storage life of the apples by one or two weeks. It is best if they are stored at 32 degrees F immediately. And then when we need the apples back later in the fall, there is the ride back on New Jersey roads—bump, bump, bump. I have been lucky over the years because John Hart of Rosedale Mills has trucked my apples back and forth. We have greatly appreciated his doing so, but it can’t be very convenient for him to stop what he is doing to re-schedule around my apples. But even so, it will be oh so much better to have our own storage.
I have spent a long time learning the best way to store apples. 32 degrees is good, but the storage room has to get back down to that temperature by the morning after the warm apples are loaded in. That takes some oomph! That’s a technical term for a heck of a lot of refrigeration capacity—over twice what it takes to just keep the apples cold after they have reached storage temperature. Then there is humidity. Low humidity will cause the apples to shrivel during storage as they lose moisture through their skins. Ugh! (another technical term) Finally there is atmosphere—the percentage of oxygen. Apples are living, breathing things just like you and me. Fruit ripening, which might be thought of as the changing of starches to sugar, is basically an oxidation process. Controlled atmosphere storages lower the oxygen level.
Controlled atmosphere storage in the US was first studied by scientists at Cornell University in the 1930’s. Apples were found to keep much better if they were cold and at a low oxygen environment. To accomplish that these days the cold storage room is constructed to be air tight and a machine is used to remove oxygen and replace it with nitrogen from the outside air. The oxygen level is kept at 2% (normal outside air is 20%). Apples can store, as firm and crispy as the day they were picked, all the way until the next harvest season!
Our barn will not be entirely this type of storage. Only one of the three storage rooms will have CA technology since most of our apples are sold in the fall. Regular cold storage is adequate for shorter term.
Designing the building that will be housing the refrigerated rooms as well as an equal space for dry storage has been fun. Pam and I traveled, took pictures, talked to other farmers and then spent about a year working with Jerry Ford and Jane Wilson of Ford 3 architects. It turns out to be a slow process to evolve your ideas into something on paper that matches your thoughts. Appearance, function and compatibility with the look of the farm were all important to us. We have ended up with a special building design that should look great and serve many functions. The dry storage part will be timber framed, just like our 1800’s barn across from the farm store. That includes mortise and tenon with oak pegs. We plan to have a barn raising this spring/summer, so please look for our notices about it and be sure to come.
Not to be too old fashioned about it, the timber framed portion of the barn will have solar panels on the roof which will provide about half of the electrical power needed. So, yes it was a red letter day. Construction should start next week. Walk down and have a look when you next visit us.
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The Mount family is celebrating the permanent preservation of our 26 acre pick your own orchard on Van Kirk Rd this winter.
This means that all four of the farms that we farm on Cold Soil and on Van Kirk Roads are now permanently preserved. The importance of this to us can hardly be overstated. To plan for the future and to maintain a viable farm enterprise, farmers need stability, especially those who grow permanent crops such as our apples, peaches, pears, cherries and berries.
Farmland Preservation is many good ideas in one program. In New Jersey, the Program started with legislation and a bond referendum in 1981. It was designed to slow conversion of farmland to development and to assure a viable farming industry for the future. However, it got off to a slow start. In our county it was about five years before we had our first applicant, the former Ed Hendrickson dairy farm which is now a thriving nursery. As a preserved farm, it does not require additional municipal services—such as education for the families who might have lived there had it been developed. The farm provides open space for the whole community. And it helps a viable farm business to continue into the future. The crops grown on New Jersey’s preserved farms do not have to be trucked in—they are grown right here.
After the slow start, the program has become very active. To date about one billion dollars has been spent. Over 1,700 farms have been preserved—almost 179,000 acres! This makes New Jersey a national leader in farmland preservation.
Of even stronger importance to us is the meaning of permanence to the next generation of our farm family. We are lucky to have children who are interested in our farm business. It remains to be seen how they will continue with the farm as their lives change and their families grow. But having the land available to farm is the basic building block.
For us to preserve a farm means giving up something. We get paid by the government to do it, but we give up the opportunity to sell to a developer who would most times pay more. But we still own the land and it is available to us for farming. The money we get will be used for farm improvements—namely a new barn and apple cold storage, which is a long time dream. More about that in the next newsletter. Happy Holidays!
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I think everyone who tries to grow something, homeowner or farmer, ornamentals or food crop, always, always ends up saying the same thing—“If only my plants could grow as well as the weeds!” Sound familiar? You bet. At Terhune Orchards, it is just about time to begin the annual battle against weeds.
Weeds are really devilish. They rob my crops of space, sunlight, nutrients and water, they provide refuge for all sorts of damaging insects and they look terrible. Not to mention poison ivy and Canada thistle—ouch!
Enough complaining—what do we actually do about weeds? When I first became a farmer, it was common practice to clean cultivate the peach orchards. We (I) would go back and forth with a tractor and a heavy disc, up and down and across the rows until all the weeds were uprooted and buried. The ground was loosened down about six inches and this reduced the competition for water and nutrients—the peaches had it all to themselves. Sounds great? Not exactly. It turns out that peaches are very shallow rooted. Many of the feeder roots come up to three inches or so from the surface. As I was going back and forth, I had been chopping off roots that were needed by the tree. Smaller peaches and weaker trees (read—more likely to die) resulted. Not good.
Then there was the rain. It being my first year at farming, I did not have a full appreciation of rain. I didn’t realize that it could rain seven inches in one week, as it did that first July, right during peach harvest. And it kept raining, a lot, all summer. I sadly watched a lot of my topsoil wash away. It takes a few hundred years for one inch of topsoil to be created. Not good.
Then there was the lugging. Lugging occurs when peaches are being picked after having a lot of rain on a clean cultivated orchard. It is impossible to drive through the orchard and picking becomes a team event. One picker, one lugger. The lugger’s job is to slog through the mud with a just picked, full basket of peaches to where the truck is parked at the edge of the orchard. Even 33 years later, I can still hear the pickers calling, when their baskets were full, “Lugger!”.
Fortunately we have come to a better way to deal with all this. We plant a thick growing sod between the rows—one that we can drive and walk on easily. Under the trees, we use a weed spray—not one that is taken up by the trees but rather a spray that keeps the weed seeds from sprouting. The spray doesn’t last very long before it breaks down into inert materials, but it does not have to. Weeds mostly sprout over a two to three month period of the growing season. I guess we might say that in weed control, as in many things, timing is crucial.
In the peach orchards, we are no longer chopping peach roots with the disc, but since there are no weeds to rob the trees of water and nutrition, we are still able to reduce irrigation and fertilizer. And there is another big advantage. One of the very damaging insects to the peach takes a small bite of the peach when it just begins to grow—when it’s smaller than a pea. As the peach grows, the area around the bite does not. The fruit becomes distorted, misshapen and gives the name “cat facing” to the result. It takes insecticide spraying to prevent this injury. Except!! Peach growers have found out that this particular damaging insect needs an additional place to live other that just on the peach tree. It has to live part of its life of broadleaf weeds on the orchard floor—sort of a city house/country house situation. By using a weed spray under the tree and a tight, vigorous grass sod in-between the rows, we are able to eliminate broadleaf weeds in the orchard. The cat facing insects cannot live in the orchard without the alternate place to live. This technique works so well, it has actually been several years since I have had to spray insecticide for the cat facing insects—so cool!
Much the same story can be told about most of the crops grown on the farm. Weeds are one of the biggest problems. This is especially true in our certified organic acreage. 2007 was our first year to have any certified organic production-about 8 acres- and the national organic program rules do not allow chemical weed sprays. Thus the question—can the farmer still be clever enough or energetic enough to defeat the weeds? In addition to the vegetables that I grow organically, I also have dreams of growing some apples organically. It is a difficult project. I tried it twice before—in 1978 for 3 years and in 1984 for 4 years. I was unsuccessful in producing good quality apples. And one of the biggest unsolved problems for me was—you guessed—weeds.
This time I have some new techniques and new materials to work with. Stay tuned for a further report but just hope that when you visit the farm sometime, you don’t hear someone, in the distance, shout “Lugger!”.
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Right at the beginning of this article, I had better state the facts: my granddaughter, Maya, loves the color blue. From her earliest days, it has been blue all the way.
This predilection for blue just might have come from her grandfather’s love of growing blueberries. At Terhune Orchards, we have two acres of blueberries. That might not seem like much but, believe me, that’s a lot of blueberries—millions! And, they are just about the most satisfactory crop that I grow.
Growing blueberries is intriguing. They actually are not supposed to grow well here. They were discovered and developed in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey where the soil is very acidic (low PH), sandy, a high level of organic matter, very well drained but having a high water table, maybe as close as two feet from the surface. Terhune Orchards soil has none of these characteristics.
Planting blues begins with a two year old plant purchased from the nursery. I bought my plants from Michigan. Two acres, spaced at 3 by 10 feet gives us room for 3,000 plants -- an entire tractor and trailer load! But ordering the plants is just the first step -- then come the interesting parts.
Blueberries need to grow in acidic soil. The makeup of their roots is such that they cannot absorb from the soil the nutrients the plant needs unless the PH of that soil is very low -- about 4.5 to 5. Terhune soil normally ranges between 6 to 6.5 -- a big difference. We lower the PH by adding sulfur. Because soil tends to rebound to its natural state, we have to add sulfur every year.
Then there is the organic matter. Pine Barren soils have levels of between 7 and 9 percent or higher of organic matter. Our upland soils have about 2 percent. Some of you might have seen Terhune’s wood chip mountain. We apply them around the plants every year.
Next comes water management. Blueberries do not like “wet feet." We ridge up each row 8-12 inches above the middles so heavy rainfall can run away from the plant roots. But, blueberries also cannot stand a drought. During the growing season, our water table can be fourteen feet below the surface. No blueberry roots go down that far. We have installed trickle irrigation systems to give them water -- every day if needed.
Another so-called intriguing part of growing blues is patience. It takes between 5 and 7 years to get significant production. In fact, the recommendation is to take all the fruit flowers off during the first growing season -- it just killed me to do so.
And then there came the birds. These voracious, winged blueberry disappearing devices could just about eat our whole crop. Very little would be left for us or for our pick-your-own customers. We now build a plastic net enclosure over the entire two acres. It takes a lot of time and it costs a lot, but when the birds sit outside the net and make a fuss about being excluded, it makes me smile.
When it is finally time to pick, about the third week in June, the first berries ready are amazing. They are huge, very tasty, but tart as well as sweet. There aren’t very many, only a few per bush, but our most experienced pick-your-own pickers make sure to get here early to get these first berries.
Blueberries are different from almost all other fruits. Most fruits need to be picked within a week after becoming ripe. Blueberries ripen and can hang on the bush for a month or more. Some people come every week and pick from the same bushes as they ripen.
Granddaughter Maya will be moving here from Baltimore this summer just in time to pick -- and eat -- the fruit of her favorite color, Blueberries.
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Terhune Orchards strawberry harvest season is just around the corner. Strawberries are one our first crops each year and also one of our best. Red, juicy, sweet, great refreshing taste—all those adjectives apply to strawberries. But when the days warm and the strawberry plants start to wake up and grow, much of the work in strawberries is already complete. Strawberry production starts in June of the previous year. We pick a field fairly close to the farmstore so that the berries can be harvested pick-your-own without too long of a walk. But the field also should not have had strawberries planted for a few years. Planting the same crop in the same place year after year allows diseases and insects to build in the soil. It also depletes the specific nutrients needed for that crop to grow and produce a good tasting fruit.
Next we plow the site and make raised beds in the soil with a trickle irrigation tube buried in the bed and a cover of black plastic over each bed. The raised bed protects the plant roots from being flooded when we get downpours during the growing season. The raised bed and the black plastic cover also help the soil warm quickly in the spring—promoting good plant growth. The black plastic keeps weeds from growing and keeps the berries off the soil, which is a source of disease. The trickle irrigation tube provides water and nutrients during the growing season (more about nutrients later). As little as one week of severe dryness can stunt the plant and the crop. Even if followed by adequate watering, the strawberries will never get to where they should be.
Finally we are ready to plant, which we do in two ways. In early July we plant bare root plants. These plants are purchased from a nursery, which dug them in the fall and kept them in cold storage—about 33 degrees F—until it was time to ship them to us in July. We also plant some strawberries at the end of August. These are actively growing plants that were started at the nursery in June and shipped to us in flats much like the flats of pansy’s that might be seen at garden center.
We take care of the plants all summer and fall—taking care of weeds, insects, disease, watering, excluding the geese (the geese must think strawberry plants are some sort of candy), watching out for rabbits and deer. In late October, we cover the field with a white sheet material called floating row cover, which protects the plants from severe winter temperatures.
In the spring we watch for the first strawberry flowers to appear under the cover. At that time the covers must come off so bees that we bring into the field can pollinate the flowers. But--and this is a very big but—the strawberries are at their most vulnerable stage of growth during this period. Strawberries bloom early, during a time when spring frosts are prevalent. Freezing temperatures will kill the flowers, causing them to turn black and drop off. In the strawberry business, dead flowers mean no strawberries. So when we take off the covers, we install, on the same day, an overhead irrigation system for the field. If freezing temperatures occur, the irrigation is turned on. As the water freezes on the plants and flowers, it liberates heat. As long as water is continuously applied and it doesn’t get too, too cold, the plant temperature will not go below 32 degrees F and the flowers will live. This might be hard to understand unless you think of what happens when ice is put in a glass of water. As the ice melts, it makes the water colder. Out in the field, it is just the opposite. As the water freezes and makes ice, it makes the plant warmer. Simple, right? Trust me, it works.
After about 4-5 weeks the strawberries will be ready to pick. During this period, it is very important that nutrients are available in the soil for the plant to use while the berries are growing. Berry size, color, taste, firmness and sweetness are all affected. I attended a lecture this winter given by Steve Bogash, a Penn State ag extension agent. One of his specialties is strawberry production. He advises his growers to have strawberry plant tissue analysis done every week in the spring. This way the grower can know what the plant is actually getting from the soil and what is lacking. Nutrients, similar to the miracle-gro used on houseplants, can be mixed with the irrigation water fed through the tubes going down each raised bed. The plants get the nutrients immediately—it shows in the next week’s analysis! I think I will be doing some tissue analysis this spring.
So all this to grow a strawberry. It is complicated, painstaking and expensive. But, if we do it right and the weather cooperates, what a reward. Come on out and pick some strawberries this year. They should be ready about mid May.
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In the late fall, much of the outdoor world that I am in touch with every day changes dramatically. Some things slow way down-fruit trees, berry bushes, weeds (thank goodness) and some things stop—vegetables and ornamentals. But regardless, the color green is gone. No longer can I see the daily miracle of plant growth, of fruiting and vegetable production, of getting ready for the next year’s cycle. All that just stops. And so my thoughts turn to the greenhouse.
Terhune’s greenhouse is not that big. Just three years ago we doubled its size to 5,000 square feet, but that’s still small as greenhouses go. However, it is a very active place. Starting in September and October, we plant hundreds of Freesia bulbs. These wonderful looking things grow slowly all fall and winter (55 degrees F). They bloom in January and February. Their blooms, all in a row on the stem, are the most amazing colors! You can see we are planning for our winter pick-me-up already, but that’s getting ahead of my story.
Some time this fall, after the frantic apple harvest and pumpkin season, but before it gets too cold (remember the freesia), we have to recover the greenhouse. We use a double layer of poly, stretched over the greenhouse frame and fastened at the edges. The existing plastic has been on for three years—about the limit. Ultra-violet radiation from the sun turns the plastic cloudy , thus reducing the amount of sunlight that can pass through. UV also weakens the poly and makes it more likely to tear during a windstorm. In the winter that would mean the end of the freesias.
The trick of recovering is to find a calm day, warm enough so that the plants inside don’t suffer, and then work like heck. Whatever is taken off has to get replaced by the end of the day. Cold temperatures at night would ruin everything inside.
Our greenhouse is two bays wide. Each bay is covered by two sheets of poly 28 feet by 100 feet. Each double layer is fastened securely around the edges and then attached to a small fan which blows air into the space between the layers. This creates a taunt air pillow which keeps the plastic from flapping in the wind and also provides insulation as well.
Hopefully, if the recovery goes well, we can start on our next crop. Although freesia, cyclamen and later some spring bulbs are in the greenhouse all winter, there is lots of space for something else—lettuce!
We started with lettuce last winter—red leaf, green leaf, Boston and romaine. 55 degrees turns out to be just right for lettuce as well as the freesia. We plant one crop after another—seeding and re-seeding all winter long. Each crop takes 8 to 12 weeks. We then pick it, sell it and start again. I stay happy—having a crop actively growing—until life on the farm outside begins again in the spring.
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Many fruit and vegetable crops are extremely perishable. Farmers must pick them and then sell them in a short time period. Take leaf lettuce, for example. We’ve been growing some great leaf lettuce this year–everyone loves it. But, if it is not sold within a day or two of harvest, forget it. Refrigeration helps, but only slightly. The same is true of many of the crops we grow–except for apples. The potential to store apples for many months with no loss of flavor or quality puts them in an entirely different category. Partly because of their year ’round availability, apples have become the number one produce item in the US.
Storing apples has not always been so successful or well understood. In colonial times, before refrigeration and before any understanding of disease and insect pests, apples did not keep very long. Some even went bad on the tree before they were picked. But actually most apples grown in those times were not destined to be eaten. They were made into cider–which at that time meant alcoholic cider. The apples were stored in a liquid state. Most farmers had a few apple trees and if the farmer was unable to make the cider himself, he took the apples to a neighbor who could and brought the cider home in a barrel. After the cider fermented, the alcohol acted as a preservative–the minimum alcohol content to do the job was about 8 percent.
Hard cider was the nation’s favorite beverage until the late 1800s, when it was eclipsed by beer, but despite its popularity, apples were also eaten as well as used in cooking. At that time, apples were stored in root cellars, which were constructed into the slope of a hill next to the farmhouse. The constant, cool temperature and high humidity maintained the apples until winter. The root cellar also kept the apples from freezing, which would accelerate spoilage.
As some farmers started to specialize in producing apples for sale, they had to find better storage methods. When I started in business 31 years ago at Terhune Orchards, apple storage was well understood–but it was not the same for everybody. I got to know an older apple grower named Ralph DelSanti. Ralph farmed in one of the northern counties, Morris County, I think, and he told me of his “storage method.” Ralph had a very large spreading tree near his farm buildings. In the fall he stacked his baskets of apples under the tree and that was it. He did this mostly with varieties that were harvested late in the fall when the weather started to turn cool, especially in the northern part of the state. The tree protected the apples from direct sun and sheltered them from frost, both of which would spoil the apples. Ralph told me that the apples “kept pretty good.” I was not totally convinced but it took Ralph a month or so to sell all his apples and it worked for him!
The next big advance in apple storage was mechanical refrigeration. We take it for granted now, with our refrigerators, freezers and air conditioning, but as the refrigeration industry grew in the early to the mid 1900s, it was a welcome innovation to the apple growers. The technology of apple storage developed rapidly. It was learned what temperatures were best for specific varieties of apples. For example, Red Delicious or Stayman store best at 30-31°, but McIntosh stores better at 33°. Farmers also learned that refrigeration equipment of adequate size was important. Apples keep better if cooled to storage temperature within 24 hours after picking. Too small a unit takes too long and also condenses so much moisture out of the air in the cold storage that some apples shrivel. When it comes to apple refrigeration equipment, bigger is better.
The latest step in apple storing is controlled atmosphere or CA storage. Fruit ripening is partially an oxidation process. By storing apples at low temperature and at a low oxygen concentration, storage time can be greatly increased. Early researchers stored apples at 5% oxygen (compared to the 20% oxygen in the air that we breathe). The latest technology uses 1% or 2% oxygen, and apples can be stored 12 months or more. In fact, scientists at Cornell University are said to have stored apples successfully for up to four years. I am not sure what “successfully” means, but that’s impressive.
Those of you readers who know me have an idea of what I am working towards. It is sort of like tractors–never having enough. The fact is, we need a new cold storage. Many of our apples now are trucked to southern New Jersey to be stored in a friend’s cold storage. I have dreamt of building a cold storage for several years, and during a trip to Nova Scotia last winter, I visited two farms that had just the type of cold storage I want. Maybe next year, visitors to Terhune Orchards will see new construction–a modern apple cold storage.
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Many of us know the poem by Robert Frost, "After Apple Picking." This apple grower has a copy framed and hanging in his kitchen. But as much as apple growers look forward to the "after" apple picking, much work and planning goes into the "before."
This year at Terhune Orchards, we have a tremendous crop of apples. We have been preparing for and caring for the crop since just after the last year's harvest. Getting ready to pick the crop involves many steps, and the first thing I think about is: Do I have enough boxes to pick into? Years ago, when Pam and I first bought the orchard, all apple picking was done into one-bushel boxes. These wooden crates held forty pounds of apples. Pickers filled the boxes and we (me and an army of high school boys) leveled them offfor some reason called "cutting them down"and stacked them on a wagon for transport to the farm's cold storage. The boxes were pushed along a roller conveyor into a large room, refrigerated to 32°F. They were then stacked by hand, box-by-box, right to the fourteen-foot ceiling, leaving only enough space for the cold air to circulate.
Needless to say, it was not too long before we changed over to bulk bins, handled by forklifts, with each bin holding eighteen bushels and weighing 800 pounds when filled. But, I'm still faced with the same questionwill I have enough?
This year, I'm just not sure.
The next question a grower must face is who will pick all these apples. My father's farm, where I grew up, only produced one crop, apples. That meant the entire production of the farm had to be picked in a 6-week period. Enough workers had to be found, many coming from long distances, and housing and furnishings had to be provided.
Fortunately for Pam and I, we grow many crops at Terhune Orchards. The work of harvesting the farm's production is spread over many months and, because of our retail farm marketing, work on the farm continues all year. When it comes to apple picking, the work force is already here.
Now, preparation comes down to the more technical stuffsuch as when to pick? I wish it were as simple as going out to the tree, picking an apple and just crunching down. But, it's not. The time to pick an apple is mostly determined by how it will get to the consumer. Pick-Your-Own customers want apples ready to eat, right then. The crunch test works fine for Pick-Your-Own sales.
Picking apples for sale later on is another matter. Picked too early, the apple is immature and has yet to develop its best flavor. Picked too late, apples will not store worth a darn. Apples mature slowly to a certain point. After that the ripening process advances rapidly and cannot be reversed. The trick is to pick and refrigerate the apple at full maturity but just before the start of rapid ripening.
There are several methods that I use to determine the best harvest date. One method I do not use is to look just at the color. Red color is a poor indicator of apple maturity. Color can be greatly affected by weather conditions around the time of harvest. One "older" method that I do use is to count the number of days since the apple tree bloomed and the apple began to grow. Each year, cold or hot, wet or dry, the number is pretty close to the average.
Then there is the techie stuffas my wife Pam says, I am a sucker for technology. I use a handheld device to measure the firmness of the apple flesh. I use another to measure the concentration of sugar in the juice of the apple. There is also a device to measure the ripening rate of the apple. A needle is inserted into the center of the apple, where the seeds are. The air there is withdrawn and analyzed for ethylene gas concentration. All fruits produce this gas naturally as they ripen. The rate of ripeningand, therefore, the suitability for the apple to be stored for later salecan be determined by the amount of ethylene.
Finally, there is the newest and simplest method, the Starch-Iodine test. While all this ripening is going on inside the apple, one of the most important things happening is that starch in the apple is changing to sugarhooray! The test apples are cut in half and sprayed with an iodine solution. After a minute or two, the starch turns dark while the sugar stays light. Compare the test apples to a photo maturity chart, and you're done.
Like many growers, I use a combination of the above methodsfrom the crunch test (thanks to my dentist!) to the latest, over-the-top technology. But, then, there is one morethe continuing "hope for the best" method. Sometimes, as the apple harvest progresses, it takes on a mind of its own. Workers come and go, rain keeps us from picking, our retail farm marketing takes every available pair of handsthe care-fully planned, technology-aided harvest sequence falls behind. Then, it's a matter of working as hard as you can and just keep "hoping for the best."
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Blueberry devotees visiting Terhune Orchards have probably noticed the black plastic pipes decorating the rows between the blueberry bushes. They are there to resolve a watering problem that, until recently, Gary Mount was unaware that he had. Gary's blueberry experience highlights the importance of a proper irrigation system and the complexities that surround it.
The Immediate Challenge
While there are many acts of nature over which the farmer has no control, water or lack thereof is not one of them. At Terhune Orchards, Pam and Gary don't rely on Mother Nature to provide sufficient water for their plants. Instead, 55 acres of fields and orchards are irrigated using the farmhouse well, the connection to the public water system, and a complex system of trickle irrigation and other methods. The well pumps water at approximately 75 gallons per minute a small amount as far as farm irrigation goes. But, because Terhune Orchards grows so many different fruits and vegetables, the farm is divided in "zones" that can be turned on or off depending on the moisture needs of each zone. This simple explanation describes a well-tuned system of irrigation that includes machinery, personnel, and resources.
The detective work began during 1999's El Niño summer when Gary noticed that the blueberries were not growing to his expectations. As do most fruit and vegetable farmers in New Jersey, Gary relies on a complex irrigation system to provide the appropriate amount of water at the right time to make Terhune Orchards' produce the best it can be.
His first approach to the blueberry problem was to check the trickle irrigation system used to water the bushes. Conventional wisdom suggested that bush roots would be densest near the underground water emitters the roots sense the water and grow towards it, no matter where it is. However, because of a 5-inch layer of organic mulch positioned above-ground and around the bushes for weed control, the blueberry roots remained in the mulch and never grew downward in search of the water supply. In response, Gary repositioned the pipes on the surface to bring the water supply closer to the roots.
The Long-Term Solution
In an area that often requires its residents to conserve water during the driest parts of the summer, the Mounts are especially interested in and concerned about how to minimize their use of water while maximizing the effect of the water they use.
During the summer months, Pam and Gary hire a teenager who zips around the farm on a golf cart several times a week recording soil moisture readings. What makes this possible is a tensiometer with two attached wires, which are visible above ground. The tensiometer is a tiny device which consists of a porous material that registers electrical resistance according to the moisture content of the soil. When the reading is high, the plants need moisture; when the reading is low, the ground is moist enough.
Two sensors are buried close to each crop to be monitored. One is placed at a depth of between ten and twelve inches and a second at twenty inches. By placing the sensors at different depths, Gary can pinpoint areas of moisture whether the moisture is on the surface, well below the surface, in both places, or in neither place. He uses the information to adjust the amount of water applied to the crops. If the bottom sensor indicates dry soil, the crops need a good dousing. If the soil near the surface is dry, but the bottom soil is wet, less water is added.
According to Gary, one of the challenges to growing so many varieties of fruits and vegetables is juggling their diverse water and nutrient requirements. For example, too much water for cantaloupes makes them mushy inside and tasteless, too! However, tomatoes and squash thrive on generous amounts of water. To further complicate the equation, fruits and vegetables need different amounts of water during the various stages of their life cycle. For example, those water phobic cantaloupes need more water as seedlings than they do as mature plants. Another factor Gary must consider is that the clay-like soil at Terhune Orchards requires different watering schedules from the sandy soil found in southern New Jersey.
In addition to checking moisture levels, Gary can also check on the plants' general appearance. The flower cutting gardens, for example, experience a considerable number of visitors walking through the rows cutting flowers. With so many people cutting the flowers, the plants occasionally need a nutritional cocktail. This is easily accomplished with the trickle irrigation system Gary simply adds nutrients to the water flowing through the trickle irrigation system within the flower beds to feed and water the plants simultaneously.
Although much of the Terhune Orchards fields and orchards are serviced by trickle irrigation, some crops benefit from overhead irrigation. Field crops, such as corn, rely on overhead systems because it is impractical and costly to lay trickle irrigation pipes across so many rows of plants! This type of irrigation requires a large amount of water, so Gary limits his use of overhead or sprinkler irrigation.
One of the unfortunate disadvantages of an overhead irrigation system is the propensity to encourage diseases especially for those plants growing in clay-like soil. Although a trickle irrigation system is more expensive to buy and more complex to install and service than an overhead system, Gary firmly believes the results justify the cost fruits and vegetables of outstanding quality and flavor. Terhune Orchards' customers concur!
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Each year in May, something happens at Terhune Orchards that makes me cringe. It is time to thin apples. I hate doing it; I get stressed and grouchy (or so says my family) and thinning makes me a nervous wreck. But I have to do it. Not doing so would leave us with small apples at harvest, possibly broken down trees and, worst of all, the likelihood of a very light crop the following year.
Thinning apples is the process of removing some of the small apples from the tree early enough in the summer so the remaining ones can grow to a larger and more marketable size. The fact is that Mother Nature provides fruit trees with many more flower buds than are actually needed. A medium-size apple tree might be able to support and bring to maturity about 700 apples. But, the tree may have 1,000 to 2,000 flower buds, with each bud capable of producing five flowers and thus five apples. That's a lot of apples. Most years, spring frosts and other environmental factors take their toll and not all of the flowers become apples. Then it is a good thing that there are so many buds; some survive enough to make a good crop. Often, though, too many apples survive too many for the tree to support. That's when thinning becomes necessary.
My life growing up on an apple farm involved a lot of thinning. In those days, all thinning was done by hand. My father was pleased to have four sonsthat made eight extra hands in the orchard during the summer to pluck off some of the small apples.
My brothers and I worked during the summers when school was out. When my parents bought a summer house at the New Jersey shore, we commuted to the farm in Princeton each day. Thinning apples for my father was not easy; the trees were large and most of the work had to be done using a 22-foot ladder. It was very tiring. Up and down the ladder, as we first moved the ladder around the tree and then from tree to tree.
Then there was the mental workhow many to thin off and how many to leave. Decisions, decisions, decisions! Enough to make us all want to sleep in the car on the way back to the shore. But, my father's driving put a stop to that. It is impossible to say how many times the entire male line of my family came close to being extinguished.
Somehow we all survived to thin again. We not only aimed to increase the value of the crop by increasing the size of the apples, but we wanted to counteract the alternate bearing habit of apples. Each seed of a developing apple produces a hormone that is transmitted back up the stem into the wood of the tree. Each year, as the apples grow, the tree also grows the buds for the next year. A heavy crop with the consequently larger numbers of seeds and greater amount of hormone influences the forming buds to become leaf buds. A light crop means fewer apples, lower numbers of seeds and a smaller amount of hormoneand the bud is more likely to become a flower bud. This up and down pattern is distressing to fruit growers, because we absolutely need a crop every year.
Thinning in most orchards is now done with a combination of hand thinning and the use of sprays. The sprays take advantage of the tree's natural tendency to drop some of its fruit in June. The sprays mimic the natural process and encourage the fruit drop.
Then, we do the follow-up by hand.
But, wouldn't you know? Spray thinning is not an exact science. It is greatly affected by the weather before and after the time of application. Sometimes it works too little and sometimes too well. It's a sickening feeling to over-thin and realize that you did something that caused the light crop. Under thinning as a result of spraying means following up with a lot of hand thinning.
I try to keep a positive attitude around thinning time and try not to be too grouchy around my family. Thinning usually works as it should. It is just another part of what I think is the best job in the worldgrowing apples.
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In a recent apple grower's trip to a Wenatchee, Washington apple packinghouse, I watched in fascination as a huge machine assembled cardboard apple boxesZip, Slam, Bam. It took me back about 50 years. This one machine completely accomplished my boyhood job on my father's Princeton, New Jersey farm of making boxesonly about 50 times faster.
For a long time, Western growers in Washington and Oregon have sent their fruit to be stored and packed at large warehouses. Eastern growers, like my father, packed their own apples. During the frantic harvest season, little packing was done as the fruit was picked, transported and stored in refrigerated rooms. After the harvest was completed, the packing began. On our farm it would continue all wintersometimes ending as late as May.
My father's cold storage and packinghouse was on US 1 in West Windsor. The storage rooms could hold some 175,000 bushels of apples, and the packinghouse was filled with packing machinery from the Wayland Company of Winchester, West Virginia. This equipment washed, dried, sorted, and sized the apples. The packing was done by hand.
My father built a second-story addition to the packinghouse for storage. This was also where I assembled the cardboard boxes. My after-school and Saturday job was to "make boxes". The boxes arrived at the farm flat and in bundles from the manufacturer, Union Bag and Box Company. I would open the flattened boxes and staple the bottom flaps together. I then threw them down a large hole in the packinghouse ceiling.
When the space below was filled, I made as many boxes ahead as I could for the next day, when I would be in school. Great was my delight when one year my father bought a motorized stapling machine and a monorail conveyor system to transport the assembled boxes down to the packing crew. Although, at age 13, I already rated myself the fastest box maker on the farm, my output increased dramatically.
Apple boxes of 45 years ago are much the same as those of today. Apple boxes before that time were quite different. Apples were packed in wooden boxes, with each apple often wrapped in a ten-inch square of oiled purple paper. Wrapping apples was an art and doing it rapidly was difficult. I got pretty good at it myself, but never as good as the best workers on our farm. Dollie Mae Jackson was the bestsuch a skilled worker was a valuable person on the farm. Her husband, Ivory (Ira) Jackson also worked on the farm and, in later years, I often worked with him in the orchard.
Wooden apple boxes came in two typeswestern (7/8 bushel) and eastern (1 bushel). Apples in westerns were individually wrapped. Those in easterns were loose packed. Wooden boxes on our farm were either purchased used and then refurbished or assembled new from parts purchased from a box manufacturer. In either case, a specialist named Gid Davis did this work on our farm. Gid spent most of the year in Florida and traveled to New Jersey once a year to work for my father. He sometimes drove a truck on the farm, but mostly he was our box man. His hands were lightning fast. He was very skilled at sanding the sides of the used boxes to make them appear new, and he had a 1952 Mercury. To my 12-year-old eyes, a '52 Merc was just about the ultimate in cool. I don't remember ever wanting a particular car more. Gid kept it immaculately clean and polished and would park it near where he worked on the boxes so that he could listen to the radio while he worked. I could never understand why that did not drain the battery, but the 52 Merc always cranked.
One special item Gid used was the nail stripper. Buying nails in bulk means the nails come in a jumbled pile. Picking up one nail results in getting your fingers poked by the points of other nails. A very slow and painful process! Somehow, the nail stripper shakes the nails down so they hang in strips. Neat! That was another thing my 12-year-old mind had trouble understanding. I recently saw a nail stripper in a museum during my Wenatchee trip. It brought back lots of memories!
At the other end of the packing process, after the washing, drying, sorting, sizing, and wrapping, came the final preparation of the boxes for shipment. The lids were nailed closed (another nail stripper), and boxes for export were strapped at each end with wire, then labeled and stenciled. Labeling evokes a lore all its own.
Every packinghouse before 1960 had its own labelcolorful and descriptive. Many apple growers have a collection of labelssome have hundreds! I think the "Mount Farms" label was one of the best. The labels were 8 by 11 inches and were applied to the ends of the boxes using a paste of flour and water. In the days before cardboard boxes, labeling was one of the jobs waiting for me when I got home from school.
The day's output of packed boxes was stacked in long rows in the front of the packinghouse. They needed only to be labeled and stenciled before being loaded onto a truck for delivery to a pier in New York. Getting the label on straight and marking the product with the family name as coming from our farm was very satisfying. It ranked close to the top of my favorite jobs on the farmright up there with stenciling.
All boxes containing apples for export had to be stenciled. The code number for the shipment was punched into an oak-tag sheet to create a stencil. Then the number was stenciled with black ink onto the side of the box. At first, my father ordered the stencils pre-punched, but later bought his own stencil-cutting machine.
I don't remember my father as a patient person, but he must have been. It seemed I would often have something that I had to talk to him about just as he was finishing a stencil. A moment's distraction and a wrong letter would be punched. The stencil had to be discarded, and he would begin again. Another trial to his patience came one day when there were two different lots of apples to stencil. I not only liked stenciling, but I was quick at the job. When I got to the end of one lot of apples, no one told me to stop. So, I stenciled all the others. Oops!
Also included on the stencil was the name of the ship that would receive the apples. Seeing those ships' names in the packinghouse was unbearably romantic to a 12-year-old compulsive book reader. Even now I wonder how I kept from stowing away in the back of a truck headed for the piers. I guess I was needed at the farm.
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The leaves have fallen from the trees and bushes here at Terhune Orchards. The plants are getting themselves set for a season of dormancy, preparing for a glorious (I hope) springtime of blossoms and pollination. As they drift off towards a time of inactivity, I am headed in the other direction! Winter work, although not as time sensitive as the growing season or as hectic as the harvest season, is one of the most interesting tasks of the year.
Each tree, bush, and cane on the farm has to be pruned every year. Pruning, the selective cutting of the fruit plant's limbs or branches, is the farmer's best opportunity to direct how his fruit crops will grow. During the growing season, we may water, fertilize and spray, but the biggest influence on the plants at that time is beyond our control rain, temperature, wind, and sunthe climate.
At Terhune Orchards, we have thousands of trees: 20,000+ apple, 2,000+ peach, 100+ pear, 1,000+ cherry, 3,000+ blueberry bushes and about 10 acres of raspberries and blackberries. That's a lot of winter work! The pruning is done by hand, and there are as many ideas about pruning as there are farmers. Each winter, I go to three or four meetings or conferences where pruning is discussed. Sometimes the discussions get pretty "interesting" because each farmer, researcher, and extension agent is sure he is right.
I am not able to do the entire pruning on the farm by myself, especially with going to all these conventions. When I come home, it becomes my duty to distill what I have learned, add it to what I think I already know, and come up with usable directions for the men who help with the pruning on the farm.
Apples are probably the most interesting trees to prune. Several factors can greatly influence the tree and the crop, such as what types of branches are cut, where they are cut, and how many are cut on each tree. Apple size, color, sweetness and shape are affected. Tree size, the number of apples per tree, the number of apples per acre, how soon the planting comes into production, and how long the tree lasts are directly related to how the tree is pruned.
Too much pruning leads to slowness to bear, lack of red color and sweetness, and large apples of poor quality. Too little pruning leads to reduction of bearing, lack of red color and sweetness, disease and insect attacks on the fruit, and a weak tree that will break under a heavy crop.
This is to say that benign neglect is not what is best for an apple tree. For example, the big apple trees in the front of the farm suffered from lack of attention this year. They ended up with a very heavy crop, small apples, and many broken limbs.
Pruning peaches is somewhat simple compared to apples. Peaches bear fruit on one-year-old wood, so we leave as many healthy, vigorous, one-year-old shoots about pencil thickness and 30 inches long as possible, spaced around the tree.
Some pruning makes me cringe. Pear pruning could be as interesting as apples, except for fire blight. This fruit tree disease (it really does look like fire has burned through the tree) attacks young, vigorous, succulent branches of the tree. It can strike a tree dead in a very short time. Since pruning stimulates the tree and promotes that kind of growth, the only solution is to prune hardly at all. Just basic shaping, minor thinning, and leave the tree alone. Hopefully the fire blight will, too.
Even higher on the cringe scale of pruning is blueberries. I am a bit new at growing blueberries, but the basics are if you want big, sweet, flavorful berries, the older canes have to be removed in rotation. If you want a lot of berries, the older canes have to be left in much longer. What a dilemma! A large crop equals small berries, potentially lower price but higher income, unhappy customers, puzzled farmer. Large berries equal less crop, potentially higher prices but lower income, happier customers, puzzled farmer. Each year I say to myself, "Let someone else prune these blueberries!"
Lots of factors can affect the eventual outcome of the fruit crop. Since many of them are beyond the farmer's control, there is no sense in worrying about them. Besides, there is nothing to do anyway. At the end of the winter when the pruning is done, there comes the satisfaction of knowing that what needed to be done was done and what could be done for a rewarding crop was completed. Happy growing.
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This year we are expanding our greenhouse at Terhune Orchards. We first built the greenhouse 12 years ago. Prior to that we hadn't grown very many of the plants that we sold. Mostly we bought them from others farmers for resale. But by growing our own plants, in our own greenhouse, we have just the right vegetable plants that we want to transplant. We can offer better quality plants, and --- most of all --- it's more fun.
Our original greenhouse was 50 by 48 feet --- about 2500 square feet. It quickly became too small for the green thumb of the family, wife Pam. There are just so many nice things to grow! This year we are doubling the size to 50 by 96 feet --- nearly 5000 square feet.
We start our growing season with Freesia, a bulb that we make successive plantings of starting in September. They are the most fantastic plants, with long stems and multiple flowers lined up in a row, hanging off the top. Freesias originated in South America and are not widely grown in New Jersey. Many greenhouse growers have their greenhouses full of poinsettias in the fall and have no room to plant freesias. Pam and I have never gotten excited about growing poinsettias, so we have room. Freesias also take a long time to grow. The first ones are ready to sell in January.
Along with freesia, we plant primrose and cyclamen -- transported to the Farm Store for sale as they mature. At the same time, we also plant tulips, daffodils, tete-a-tete, and grape hyacinth. These bulbs take a side trip to the bulb cooler for a few months. The bulb cooler is a completely-dark and refrigerated room. Those conditions allow the bulb roots to grow, but the cold temperature and the darkness keep the tops from growing. After two or three months, the roots have filled the pots, but the tops are only two inches tall and without any green color. Starting in January, we bring a few out into the greenhouse each week. After two weeks, they have grown, turned green, started to flower and are ready to sell. Fantastic!
The story of bulb growing explains one of the reasons why greenhouse growing is such fun. The grower gets to control the weather -- at least the inside weather. Heaters, powered by natural gas, maintain a constant temperature. Fans cool the greenhouse when the sun is shining. Each plant gets the exact amount of water it needs and, by adding insect screening and growing lights (for a longer growing day), we can further control the growing environment.
One more thing -- during this winter-time growing, it is warm in the greenhouse. Here at the farm, where we work outside all winter, Pam never has trouble getting help doing work inside the greenhouse. It rates right up there with the bakery as a nice place to work on a cold day!
After the winter bulbs have all flowered and been sold, we start growing our spring flowers, herbs and vegetable plants that I transplant into the fields --- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and in the summer, broccoli, collards, and brussel sprouts.
Some plants arrive as "plugs." They are already germinated seeds and are one-half inch high. These tiny plants come 72, 144, 225 or more to a 10 by 20 inch flat. We transplant them to pots or hanging baskets, and then put them into the greenhouse to grow. We grow other plants from seed. We first sow the seed in rows in a fine textured soil mix and place the sowing tray on a heated bench. We mist the bench frequently and transplant the tiny plants to pots when they get about three-quarters of an inch tall.
All in all, this is a very complicated growing process. To get the best results with so many different types of plants, we have to give each their own particular treatment and the right amount of growing time. Making all these plantings come out right is very satisfying.
That's part of the fun. Then, there is the technology of it all. As Pam says, I am a sucker for technology. One of the best examples is the greenhouse monitor. If it gets too cold, too hot, too noisy, or if the electricity goes off, this machine calls me up, immediately. I pick up the phone and hear the recording, "The temperature is too low." That means it is time for me to get out there and fix the heaters. If I am not home, the machine calls three other people in sequence. On a cold night, greenhouse temperatures can fall to damaging levels in as little as 4 or 5 hours. Or on a hot day, without the cooling fans, the temperature can soar to plant-killing levels in as little as an hour. This past Christmas, while I was on vacation, the electricity went off during a snowstorm. Fortunately, the machine summoned two key employees who came in and started a generator to power the heaters. Thank goodness!
That brings up my latest greenhouse technology --- a stand-by generator. Powered by natural gas (no fuel tank to go empty, no gasoline to turn stale), it starts, comes to full power, and switches over in 20 seconds. It runs until power is restored, whether that takes hours or days. It also exercises itself once a week. It starts and runs for twenty minutes --- just for fun!
To go along with all the fun, the greenhouse also has some problems. When it snows, I have to turn the heat way up so that it will melt off the roof as it falls. Letting snow buld up might collapse the greenhouse or allow ice to form, which if blown by the wind later can slice the greenhouse plastic to ribbons. Also, a severe hailstorm, like the one in June this year, can actually puncture holes in the plastic, which then needs to be replaced.
Mostly, the greenhouse is an enjoyable challenge. It gives me a chance to control the inside weather, has a lot of neat complicated devices for me to work with, and it provides brightness and warmth during the long New Jersey winters!
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I have come full circle in my attempts to make the best apple cider that I can at Terhune Orchards. Make those two full circles. Ideas that I tried when I first started, than abandoned, then tried again in a different way are now either back in or back out. What I have found over the years is that there is more than one way to make apple cider. But, just keep to the basics and you'll be all right.
What are the basics? Start with sound, ripe apples. Don't use just one variety of apples. Look for a blend of different types. Keep everything as clean as you can. Cool the cider immediately after pressing and pasteurizing.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, although it's not that hard to get it wrong. One of the most common mistakes in cider making is using immature apples. Maturity in an apple means the starches in the fruit have mostly changed to sugar. Eating a starchy apple will bring out adjectives like woody, tasteless, green, or mealy.
And just what is a "sound" apple? I tell the cider makers here at Terhune Orchards that if they would not eat the apple, then don't let it go into the cider press. No decay, no major bruises. Just that simple, but it makes a big difference.
Keeping everything as clean as possible is critical as well. It's a lot of work. Sometimes, when we are only make four or five hundred gallons, it takes longer to clean up afterwards than to press the cider! Items to be cleaned: bin dumper, sorting rollers, apple washer, bucket elevator, apple grinder, pomace (ground up apple) tank, pomace pump, the cider press itself, press cloths, cider pumps, cider filter, storage tanks, pasteurizer, and jug filler. Using a pressure washer at 1000 psi does the trick for most items.
Finally, there is cooling. Each of our four hundred gallon storage tanks has its own two horsepower cooling system. Good quality cider is made without preservatives. At warm temperatures, fermentation starts quickly. Refrigeration (as close to 32 degrees as possible) is essential.
That's about it -- except for the actual blend of varieties that we use. Each cider maker has a preference. The exact mix usually changes over the season and is not often divulged. Asking is like asking a Maine lobsterman where he catches his lobsters. Ey-yup!
The more I learn about making cider, the more I realize that the basics count. I keep trying new ways to get at the basics--this year we will debut a plan for cider quality and safety. I have worked this out in conjunction with the US FDA and the New Jersey Department of Health at a seminar sponsored by the New Jersey Horticultural Society, of which I am treasurer. This plan should go a long way towards keeping Terhune Orchards Apple Cider the very best.
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Picking your own fruit leads to a lot of questions - weather forecast, clothing, how much to pick -on and on. But when it comes to cherries, the decision is a weighty one of whether to pick them with the stem (slowly and carefully) or without the stem (much faster).
Cherries grow on two- to three-inch stems, just the way that you see them in the store. At bloom, the cherry-flower clusters are tight to the limb. After the flowers bloom, the stem grows rapidly, giving the developing cherry some room to grow. Cherries are so fragile and susceptible to decay that they would not do well jammed tightly together. Space between the cherries would stay moist, fostering decay. Also, pressure from the other cherries in such tight quarters would deform the cherry and damage the skin.
Regardless of whether you pick with or without the stem, one thing for sure is that there will be a lot of cherries. I just read about a contest sponsored by cherry growers in Washington last year. The idea was to guess the number of cherries on a tree. The number was 12,299! I think the tree in question was larger than my trees (we planted dwarf trees for easy picking). But still, two acres times 300 trees per acre times ???? cherries per tree-wow, that's a lot of cherries. I hope you are all hungry for cherries.
But the cherries don't all have to be picked at the same time. We have eleven varieties of sweet cherries: Hudson, Somerset, Ulster, Heidelfingen, Lapins, Van, Sam, Ranier, Hartland, Chelan, and Schmidt as well as Montmorency sour cherries. Each variety is ready to pick at a slightly different time. The harvest can be spread out over two weeks or so, but be forewarned; hot weather can greatly accelerate the ripening process. The cherries can be gone before you know it.
But with the stem or without? The best I can say is that it really depends on how and when you plan to use them. For immediate use or in salads or pies, the fast and easy way (without stems) will do. If you plan to refrigerate them for more than a day or two, then pick with the stems. This is slower but does not break the skin of the cherry. Happy Picking!
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One of the very great risks in growing fruit in New Jersey is that freezing temperatures around bloom time, known as spring frosts, can kill buds or blossoms and devastate the crop. On spring nights, freezing air can move into the fields or on clear, windless nights, objects near the ground, such as fruit buds can radiate heat right up to the sky and become even colder than the surrounding air. When that happens, there can be frost even though the air temperature is above freezing.
This freezing and killing of fruit buds is not good. Dead buds mean no fruit. Without a consistent production of fruit, well, there goes the farm. But farmers have been trying to control frost since ancient times when grape growers burned brush in their vineyards. Modern farmers also try heating. Sometimes they use fans to mix the lower level cold air with the warmer air from above. And sometimes they try irrigation, which is what I am going to try this year on my strawberries.
Irrigation is one of the most effective methods available to help a farmer survive a frost. But it's not that the water being applied is 55 degrees and warms the plant. Actually, when the water first hits the plant and starts to evaporate, the plants temperature cools a few degrees. Farmers start irrigating a few degrees above freezing to avoid causing worse damage than that which they are trying to control.
Frost protection by irrigation works from a scientific principle: as water freezes it liberates heat. If this seems confusing, think of how ice melts when heat is added. The reverse of the process, making ice, gives off heat. As long as enough water is applied continuously, ice keeps forming and the temperature of the strawberry bud does not go below freezing. Ice may build up, but the freezing process stabilizes the temperature even when the surrounding air temperature is well below freezing.
This process releases considerable heat. A gallon of heating oil burned in a heater releases about 144,000 BTUs of heat into the field or orchard. That same gallon used in a diesel-powered pump could spray about 14,000 gallons of water on the field. If all this water froze into ice it would release over 16,000,000 BTUs of heat -- 120 times more!
Planning and constructing an irrigation system for frost protection has been interesting. First, a water supply and reliable pump is needed. My new well and pumping system will be adequate to do the job. Then there is the layout of sprinklers and piping in the strawberry patch. Fortunately, a lot of written information is available. My frost protection folder is now about four inches thick! And, finally, knowing when to turn the irrigation on is important. Over-irrigation is expensive and can damage the plants. Waiting too long might just waste the whole effort.
I have consulted with some of my fellow farmers about this. Some of them get very little sleep during strawberry bloom time. They put a sleeping bag in their pickup truck, park out by the field, and wake up every half hour or so to check the temperature. There is no room for error. In extreme cases, temperatures can drop as much as 9 degrees in as little as 15 minutes!
The trouble with these methods is that I like my sleep. The prospect of being awake night after night, followed by working all day does not appeal to me. Fortunately, I have a device that warns me if the temperature falls in my greenhouse. This machine dials my phone and announces, "The temperature is low." I have a spare device that I will use for the strawberries. When I hear the message, it means I had better get out there and start the irrigation.
This spring, if you drive by early some morning and see the irrigation running on the strawberries, you'll know why. And when you come back in May to pick some strawberries for dinner, you'll know that just maybe those berries came from buds that were safely protected under the ice this spring.
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The Terhune Orchards Farm Store has always interested me - its architecture, function, history, and names. In our early years of owning Terhune Orchards, we called it the "apple building." I recently talked with Richard Terhune, a member of the Terhune family who sold us the farm 28 years ago. He told me that his family always called it the "apple house" as in farmhouse, cider, house, smokehouse, wash house, etc. In his day, apples were their main crop, but they also grew some peaches. We now grown about 32 different crops, all sold through the "farm store". "Apple Building" just doesn't quite fit anymore.
The Farm Store building was constructed in the 1930's. The basement was dug using a "bull scoop" pulled by a Fordson tractor. (They were so called because when Henry Ford first started selling tractors, the name Ford was already taken by another company. He formed a new company, Henry Ford & Son, and named the tractors Fordson.) The scoop had two handles, similar to wheelbarrow handles. As it was pulled along, lifting the handles slightly would scrape off a layer of soil. When it was full, the handles were pushed down and the scoop slid along the ground. The scoop's contents were dumped by sharply lifting the handles to slip it frontward. Tractor, scoop, and operators made many trips, round and round, scooping up a bit of earth each time.
Dick related a family story about the scoop having uncovered a spring during construction of the "apple house". Everyone was very glad that the tractor had been parked up and out of the basement excavation that night because, by morning, it was filled with water! To this day, the spring runs through in the basement floor and fills the small pond behind the store.
The basement of the building was used to store apples. The fruit was sorted and packed on the main floor, and the attic was used to store boxes and baskets. Elsie Terhune Davison, who with her husband Jack were the former owners of Terhune Orchards, told me that she and her sister Ruth also roller skated on the main floor during the off-season. According to Elsie, Ruth was the better skater.
All the apples were picked and stored in half-bushel baskets in those days - similar to the baskets used to display apples in the farmstore today. The baskets were open on the top and stacked pyramid-style on the basement floor. This took some skill as I found out when I tried it.
Cooling the stored apples was accomplished by means of cellar doors and an air tunnel that went all the way up to the cupola on top of the building. The doors were kept open day and night; cool air came in through the doors and hot air rose up through the air tunnel and out the cupola. The doors were closed only when the outdoor temperatures were low enough to freeze and spoil the apples. The running spring also helped cool the air and keep the humidity high.
Apples were lifted up by hand through a trap door to the mail floor. Although today all apple containers are handled with a forklift, it was several years after our purchase of Terhune Orchards in 1975 before we could afford such a labor-saving machine. Apples kept well in this storage - often into January. In the 1960's, the first mechanical refrigeration was installed.
I've always wondered about the design of the building. Dick and Elsie related how their father, the builder of the "apple house", worked very closely with "the college." (All older New Jersey farmers refer to Rutgers' Cook College that way. I suppose it comes from Cook College's former name, "The College of Agriculture.") His close association with "the college" and the building's functional design leads us to believe that agricultural engineers - perhaps from "the college" - were involved.
The first electricity in the "apple house" was DC current supplied by storage batteries kept in an old smokehouse located between the "apple house" and the farmhouse. The batteries were charged by a wind-powered Delco generator, which was mounted on or near the windmill next tot he farmhouse. Unfortunately, neither the windmill nor the smokehouse exists today. The main use of electric power was for lighting, and wires were also run to the barn and the farmhouse. Elsie recalls that the first electric clothes washer was powered by this system and had to be re-wired when AC power was brought in from the street. A family joke was that when the lights dimmed (low batteries), it was time to go to bed!
The progression of name changes also reflect today's use of the building as the main point of sales on the farm. A front porch was added in 1978 and later a rear addition for preparing fruits and vegetables for sale.
Pam and I really love our farmstore. The interior has undergone many changes - new walls, additional windows, opening the ceiling, and replacing the floor. The walls are covered with old farm tools from my grandfather's farm. During the busiest times of the year the store is too small, but most of the time it's just right.
Writing this story has brought home to me how different farm life was one hundred years ago. Far fewer people lived in this area, and families were often connected in ways that are no longer remembered. Dick Terhune had a surprise for me when I talked to him about the "apple house". His grandfather, the first Terhune to own this farm, was named Richard MOUNT Terhune. His middle name was the same as my own family name! I put my bother Lee Mount, our family genealogist, on the job. He found that Richard Mount Terhune's mother's maiden name was Mary A Mount. What's more, his mother-in-law's maiden name was Edna E. Mount. Both women shared common ancestors with my father's family!
It was a great surprise to learn that when Pam and I bought this farm, it was really a family affair.
Many thanks to the Terhune family, Dick Terhune, Elsie Davison and Charles Hunt (their brother-in-law), and my brother Lee Mount for their help with this story.
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My father once told me that he had asked my grandfather, whose farm was on Route 1 in West Windsor, what he and his farmer friends talked about when they stood together at different gatherings. "Horses and women" was his answer. I always wanted to ask whether, in my father's day, it was "tractors and women".
One of the enduring themes of farm life is the farmer's relationship with his horses and his tractors. One of my uncles sketched out a map of my grandfather's farm as it looked between 1900 and 1910. It shows the horse barn and lists all of the horses he could remember by name--Tom, Dan, Jumbo, Dick, Pansy, Ned, Charlie, Lester, Stewart, John, Bonehead, and Jenny. They did the plowing, planting, cultivating, haying, harvesting, hauling, and transporting people. Horses were even used to pull ropes that hoisted hay into the top of the barns or to power different pieces of stationary equipment. Horses wer4 very important on the farm, and it took quite a number of them to do all of the work.
In 1916, my grandfather, William M. Mount, bought his first tractor, an Avery Model 8-16. The number 8 meant that the tractor was able to exert the same pull as 8 horses, i.e., 8 horsepower. The larger number was the power of the engine. Almost half of its power was lost in the transmission and gears! Gears were shifted by a hand lever that moved the entire engine assembly forward and back to engage the correct gear combinations. The tractor was powered by kerosene and used gasoline to start it. In addition to the two fuel tanks, a third tank held water, which was added in small amounts to suppress combustion knocking (pinging) of the kerosene and to add power.
In short order, my grandfather bought two more Avery tractors, a 6-12 and a 12-25. He liked them so much he became an Avery Tractor dealer. His four sons, including my father, had the job of delivering them. The steel wheeled behemoths were simply driven along the road to their destination. No driver's license was needed in those days. They had to return to the farm by shanks-mare (an old saying meaning "on foot").
The first tractors were large and heavy, difficult to maneuver, and had cleated steel wheels that jarred the operator down to his bones. However, everything considered, farmers liked them more than horses. In addition to more pulling power, each tractor had a powered pulley that could drive a flat belt. The belt was attached to a piece of machinery like a thresher or a circular saw. I have actually used one of these saws, powered by a belt from one of my father's tractors. Luckily, I survived the experience with all limbs intact.
As the use of tractors on farms increased, they became more powerful, easier to use, and began to come with rubber tires. One of my uncles and my father argued about whether steel or rubber would pull better. To settle the matter, they hooked two tractors back-to-back. It was a dead heat. They just sat there and dug holes in the ground. I don't think my grandfather was too pleased.
Along with the coming of rubber tires came the demise of the Avery Company. My grandfather switched to Case tractors, still retaining the same delivery staff. When I grew up, there was only one tractor to have on the farm--Case. However, when I was ten, my father bought a Ferguson. It was quite a radical step, even though the Ferguson had several features that made it more suitable for some farm jobs than the Case.
It might seem strange that a better machine would be so radical, but just as with their horses, farmers are particular about their tractors. Even today, many rural towns divide their farmers according to the equipment they use. People are identified by their brand of tractor. "He's a John Deere man." Or, "He's a Case man." Part of the identity is the paint color. "They're all green (John Deere) over there," is a comment I heard only last week.
Another part of the identity is passion. No farmer who believes in his tractors is lukewarm about them. Several years ago, I traveled to Biglerville, PA, to look at a new sprayer for my orchards. The dealer took me to see a particular model on someone's farm. When I asked the farmer how he liked the sprayer, I was sternly told that it "worked good, but only if you have something green (John Deere) to put in front of it." It wasn't at all clear whether this farmer would even let me look at the sprayer if I wasn't going to pull it with a John Deere. Red (Case or International), orange (Allis Chalmers), or blue (Ford) just wouldn't do.
So, you really can't separate farmers and their tractors. Actually, for an self-respecting farmer, it is a case of the more the better. (This truism doesn't usually apply to the farmer's spouse.) One year before Thanksgiving dinner at our house, my younger brother Tim walked around the farmstead, sort of looking things over. At dinner (keep in mind, this is my own brother!), between mouthfuls of turkey, he asked, "Gary, why do you need 13 tractors?" The dead silence that followed was broken by Pam's questions, "We - have - 13 - tractors?" That's why farmers never, ever park all of their tractors in a row--too easy to count!
As I write this, I am thinking about getting a new tractor. It is something I desperately need. The more, the better!
*Thanks to my brothers Bill and Lee for information for this article.
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I've said it before -- each time I think that I know what I'm doing in farming, something new and unexpected comes along to surprise me.
The 2002 growing season is bringing new challenges for farmers in our area. By this I mean the drought. Many New Jersey farmers are wondering if we face another summer like that of 1999, one of the driest ever. For me, 1999 served as a wake up call. It made me realize that I had better be ready to adequately water my crops -- and to do so with the smallest amount of water possible.
The problems of drought are self evident for all farms -- no water equals no crop production and no income. Drought compounds the problem for a fruit grower. Not only does drought reduce the amount of fruit, but it reduces fruit size and quality. Also, most fruit bearing plants develop flower buds for the next year at the same time fruit is growing for the present year. This means the affects of a drought can be seen over several years. Finally, is some areas of low rainfall and/or very sandy soil, lack of rain can kill the fruit tree. Although my front lawn at the farm may turn brown and look dead during a drought, it is really just dormant and comes back when it rains again. Fruit trees don't.
Enough about the problems. What are the solutions? In 1980, Pam and I purchased a farm on Van Kirk Road and planted apples and raspberries. That is where we now have our pick-your-own apple orchards. I installed trickle irrigation in this location and, as a result, have watered the farm very efficiently over the years. Drip irrigation delivers water slowly and in small amounts, right at ground level. Very little is lost to evaporation or runoff. My trees and raspberries have survived several dry years. At that time, my irrigation system was state of the art.
That was 22 years ago. Funny how things change. After my dry summer of 1999 wake up call, I started to think about ways to improve my system. Maybe there were ways to water the trees better and use water more efficiently. Maybe there were people out there who knew more than I did about irrigation (although I hate to admit it).
This past year, I have worked with a federal/state conservation program known as EQIP, which is designed to improve the environmental quality of farming enterprises. Experts were available to review my new plans, and I rehabilitated my irrigation system on Van Kirk Road during the summer of 2001. I installed new piping to deliver water to each section of the orchard, new control valves in each section, and modern tubing that releases water evenly all along each row. These improvements have made a tremendous difference. It seems that more evenly controlled watering does not have to be turned on for as long a period. Trees at the beginning of the row do not have to be over-watered in order for the ones at the end of the row to get enough. New sensors buried in the orchard tell me exactly when the soil is moist enough. And best of all, I only have to run the system about half as long as I did before!
I wouldn't have believed it, but then each time I think I know what I'm doing, something new comes along.
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Four or five years ago, I was surprised to receive a Purple Martin house as a birthday present from my family. I love Purple Martins; they are migratory birds with some of the most interesting habits of any birds. I have been interested in Purple Martins for a long time, which started with my first martin house at my parents' home near Grover's Mill, New Jersey. I later received one built by my brother Bill Mount shortly after Pam and I bought Terhune Orchards 27 years ago.
Martin houses are literally apartment houses for birds. Purple Martins live in colonies and almost exclusively in housing built for them by humans. Some of the earliest martin housing was included in sketches made by New World explorers. Martin houses, in the form of hollow gourds, were pictured hanging near Native American homesites.
Purple Martin houses can be sets of "single family" dwellings hung near each other or "multifamily" units with 10, 20, or more attached dwellings. These are mounted on poles about 15 feet off the ground.
Neither of my earlier martin house experiences successfully attracted martins, but I was determined to be successful this time. It seems that the biggest factor in attracting martins conforms to the old real estate maxim: location, location, location. Martins don't like to live near trees -- they like to swoop and dive. They don't like undergrowth near the base of the pole -- too many predators such as raccoons or snakes can hide there, ready to climb the pole at night. Martins also like places with a good food supply -- near a pond for instance. They eat tremendous numbers of insects (that's one reason I like martins so much), catching them on the fly as they swoop and dive.
In addition to these common sense location guides, there came an unexpected one. Purple Martins like to be near people. They seem to like seeing people as they go about their daily tasks of eating every flying insect in the area. I almost made the mistake of putting my new "low income housing" in a field far from the farm buildings.
Purple Martins spend their winters very far south in Brazil. They migrate north, with the first ones arriving in the southern US -- Texas or Louisiana -- in February or March and to our area about April 1. The first ones to arrive are adult male martins, so black in color that they are almost purple. They check out the accommodations and, if they approve, hang around waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Very early each morning, they fly high above the farm singing their dawn song.
As an as yet unproven theory suggests, the female and young adult martins, flying north at this later time, hear the song and are attracted to the site. The martins move in, sometimes evicting local squatters such as sparrows. They raise a family and are with us all summer, filling the air with their twangy chirping -- recognized immediately by any martin enthusiast. In mid-August, they depart for their long journey south.
My first year, I didn't get my new birdhouse put up soon enough to qualify as a "prime" location. My birthday is mid-May, and then I had to assemble and erect the thing -- so many little parts! It was Memorial Day before it was ready for occupancy. To my surprise, martins arrived three days later. They were young adults, probably escaping crowded conditions elsewhere. Although they set up housekeeping, they were unsuccessful in raising a family. It was great having them around, and each year since we've been lucky to have several families visit for the summer. I have put up another apartment house and several fiberglass gourds as well. As I write this while returning from an Easter visit to our daughter Tannwen in San Francisco, I wonder who will get home first Pam and me or the martins.
Please join us in enjoying the Purple Martins. You can watch the fun through the telescope we set up on the Farm Store porch or sit at a nearby picnic table. For additional information, visit www.purplemartin.org.
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There's been a lot of IPM going around lately. At Terhune Orchards, we got it over 15 years ago and we still have it.Quite a few of my farmer friends in New Jersey have it and not just fruit growers, but vegetable farmers too. When I went to a Michigan fruit grower meeting this winter, I found it all over the place out there too! And last winter when Pam and I went to Australia and New Zeeland, guess what? It had spread all over down under as well.
Just what is IPM?It is NOT some terrible agriculturally related calamity NOR is it a new esoteric illness only inflicting farmers. IPM is Integrated Pest Management and it's the best. IPM is a systematic approach to dealing with pests and diseases that damage crops. IPM scientifically evaluates all methods of control and all factors involved in each and then applies the ones that make the most sense overall. Not necessarily the cheapest-although cost is a factor, not necessarily the most lethal to the pest-although effectiveness is a factor, and not necessarily the easiest to use-although safety is a huge factor. A farmer using IPM evaluates these three factors-cost, effectiveness and safety in addition to many others in order to determine how and to what degree, to combat a pest that damages crops.
This seems logical, right? Just use the scientific method and come out with a rational answer. Well, it hasn't always been that way.
Imagine years and years ago, when everyone lived on a farm. Many different crops were grown and pest damage was accepted as part of growing a crop. Damaged farm crops could always be salvaged in some way-animal food for example. If you grew it for your own use, you could deal with the problem. What came next however was farmers selling their crops to other people. Oops! Damage to a salable item was much more important and not acceptable. And the specialization in growing crops led to increased damage because of concentration of pests and diseases.
When chemical products to control pest became widely used in the 1940's, they were the magic bullet-one solution fit every problem-don't need to think about anything else. Harmful effects of long persistence of the chemical and/or possible harm to other species weren't well understood and not a concern to most people.
But what about today and IPM at Terhune Orchards? IPM is accepted as one of the most bio-rational methods a farmer can use to control crop damaging pests and diseases. At Terhune Orchards, IPM has led us into doing some pretty interesting stuff. An IPM scout from Rutgers Cooperative Extension visits our farm three or four times a week to help us determine the presence and severity of pests and disease. The scout counts the numbers of several different damaging insects that are caught in traps on the farm each week. (We are not trying to trap all the insects-just to find out when they are present and when is the best time to control them.)
Maybe you've heard of the "worm in the apple". That usually is the larva of the codling moth. If you are a fruit grower trying to sell apples, you just can't have any worms in the apples. Years ago, growers had to apply up to 5 sprays to be sure they killed the hatching codling moth larvae. At Terhune Orchards (and most other IPM farms), we add the average daily temperatures, known as degree-days, from when our IPM scout first catches a codling moth and then determine when the first damaging larvae will hatch. We then know just when to spray. One spray does it-that's one fifth, .20, 20%--that's part of IPM.
We use another neat technique to control apple scab-a devastating disease affecting both the apple tree and the fruit. We keep a mini weather station (it is how we count the degree days in the codling moth example) and we track the rainfall, leaf wetness and temperature during the apple season. We correlate the length of time the leaves are wet at a given temperature with the occurrence of the disease, apple scab. If the disease is going to happen, we spray. If it is too cold for the scab to develop, or the leaves aren't wet long enough, we don't spray. We substitute information in place of chemicals; without that information, we would have to spray on a calendar schedule to be sure of having no scab. Many years we save over half the scab sprays-that's .50, 50%--it's part of IPM.
I could write on forever with examples of IPM, but the last story to tell is the best. It's a technique we use to almost completely eliminate insect sprays in peaches. The two main insects that attack peaches are the Oriental Fruit Moth (OFM--the worm in the peach) and the Peach Tree Borer (PTB-a wood boring insect that gets inside the bark of the tree.) The system is based on the fact that the male moth finds the female by following her scent through the air. We purchase tiny plastic tubes that look like the twist-ems which close off the end of plastic bags. They contain the synthetic scent of the female OFM and female PTB. This scent is actually the same attractant our IPM scouts use to attract male moths to their traps. The difference is that we attach one twist-em to each tree in the whole peach orchard. I can't help but think that this much female scent out there must attract every male OFM and PTB in the county to our orchard!! But, and it's a big but, when they get here, there is so much scent around that they become confused and cannot find the real female OFM or PTB. I shouldn't have to explain further-after all, you have read this far-but if the males cannot find the females, there is no mating, no egg laying, no hatching of worms or borers and best of all, no need to spray. That's great and it's part of IPM.
So that's three ways we use IPM at Terhune Orchards. If you are visiting sometime and would like me to show you more, just ask.
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What in the world is Sweet Charlie anyhow? When I was a boy, I had a black and white stool in the shape of a skunk that was called Sweet William, but Sweet Charlie?
One of the aspects of fruit growing that we'd like to change around here is in the naming of varieties. As Pam says, who would want to eat an apple named Carousel? Or a peach named Contender? Or a raspberry called Prelude? Anyhow, you get the drift. Who names these things anyhow?
Some years ago, we attended a "naming party' given by my friend Dave Meirs of Creamridge. Dave is a breeder of racehorses and each year is faced with the task of providing unique names for his many foals. As the mares and their colts were led out for those of us at the party to see, we wrote down a suggested name for eachDave collected them at the end and had a supply of names that would last for a while. Of course, what we were drinking had a beneficial effect on the quality of the names. Maybe fruit growers should do something similar for new varieties.
But back to Sweet Charlieit's a strawberry. And yes we have planted someabout an acrehere at Terhune Orchards. Using a technique developed by the Cooperative Extension Service at Rutgers, we planted the strawberries in August 1999. After preparing the soil by liming, fertilizing, plowing and disking, we made raised beds across the field with a trickle irrigation tube under the surface of each row and black plastic over the top.
Raised bed technology provides for better drainage and aeration of the soil. The black plastic warms the soil for faster and earlier growth and prevents weed competition without use of herbicides. The trickle tube waters the plants and can be used to add fertilizer if the plants should need it.
We planted our strawberries quite closeawful darn close, actuallysix inches apart in a double row on the plastic strips making 17,000 plants in our one acre! Then in October, we covered the entire acre with white floating row cover. This cover is spun polyester weighing 0.9 ounces per square yard. It "floats" on top of the plants and provides protection from severe winter cold as well as spring frosts. In addition, the warm microclimate under the covers induces earlier fruiting. The cover will be pulled back before the strawberries bloom, but kept at the edge of the field for re-covering in the case of a spring frost when the blossoms are out. This past winter, you may have seen the white cloth covered field while driving down Cold Soil Rd.
All of this strawberry work has now resulted in an investment of about $6,500. However, the raised bed and close planting techniques "should" result in significant yield, size and quality this spring. As Pam says, I'm a sucker for technology. But I just couldn't pass up the prospect of a successful strawberry planting in only one year. (Traditional techniques take two years.) But keep in mind the quotes around the word "should". This is the first strawberry planting at Terhune Orchards. Without the new technology, our chances for success would be slim.
And Sweet Charlie? When we chose a variety to plant, we heard that "Chandler" gave the largest berries and that "Seneca" gave the top production per acre, but that Sweet Charlie was the best tasting. So towards the end of May, get ready for the opening of our pick-your-own berry patch. Check our web page, watch for our newspaper ads or call the farm. Our Sweet Charlies will be ready.
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This past February, Pam and I traveled in New Zealand and Australia for three weeks as part of a group of apple growers attending the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association (IDFTA)'s annual conference. This organization of fruit growers, researchers and nurseries is dedicated to promoting fruit growing on compact or "dwarf" trees. Visitors to Terhune Orchards have noticed that we have very few of the twenty foot tall apple tree behemoths leftmost of our trees are planted close together and do not get more than seven feet high. I learned the techniques of growing trees this way through my association with the IDFTA. In fact, I am now its longest serving board member and chair of the research committee. This New Zealand conference marked our first meeting outside of North America and was a great success! Not only did we have attendees from North America (260), including seven from New Jersey, but also New Zealanders and Australians took the opportunity to attend. Pam and I toured orchards and nurseries, attended meetings, and even got to have a look at the America's Cup racing. I was also thrilled to go on board a replica of the Endeavour, the ship used by my hero, Captain James Cook, in his Pacific explorations.
As far as apple growing goes, New Zealand's growing conditions are to die for. A very long growing season, moderate temperatures (not too cold in winter, nor too hot in summer), lots of intense sunlight, little rainfall but plentiful ground water, very few insect and disease pests, and fertile, well-drained soils. We were jealous of all this and of the reported quality and quantity of production (1600 to 2000 bushel/acre). But one counterpoint to the above made us still glad to be New Jersey farmers. New Zealand's population is quite small3 to 4 million and growers must export most of their crop. New Zealand is a long, costly trip from anywhere and competition in the world market is very sharp.
Part of the conference included the meeting of the Research Committee. We awarded grants totaling $60,000 for research in dwarf fruit trees. Funding for this research comes from grower members of the association. One grant will be especially interesting to New Jersey's peach growers in that it funded research evaluating dwarf peach rootstocksbrought to the United States from other countries. This is a new development in peach growing and quite exciting to the industry. At Terhune Orchards, I have never been able to plant dwarf peach trees, only apple. The New Jersey State Horticultural Society has contributed to the research committee for many years.
After the conference, some 120 of us traveled through some of the fruit growing areas of Australia, starting with the island state of Tasmania and ending in Sydney. The whole point of touring an area so different from our own is not that we can bring all of their techniques home and use them here. Conditions are often too different. But instead it was of great interest to us to see how farmers in other areas meet the challenges of growing in their location.
In Tasmania, the fruit industry lost the entire market for its 10 million bushel crop when Great Britain joined the common market! For us it would be like closing off Cold Soil Road! Young Tasmanian growers are redirecting their crop to Asian marketshaving replanted with sweeter varieties. We admired their enthusiasm.
In the Batlow area the Snowy Mountains of mainland Australia, apples grow to a quality unequaled anywhere. However, severe and frequent hailstorms threaten the profitability and continuance of the region. We were amazed at the tenacity and ingenuity of growers in erecting hail netting over large acreages.
We also saw an interesting solution to overpopulation of deer in both New Zealand and Australia. We saw thousands of acres of farms where deer are fenced in and raised for meat. Venison from "down under" is shipped all over the world. Deer have no natural predators in the two countriessomething like our situation here in New Jersey. Without control, the deer population used to overrun the country.No more.
We ended our trip in Sydney. The warmth, friendliness and dynamism of the city's population make in easy to see that this year's Olympic games couldn't be in a better place. Attending a performance in the Sydney Opera House and joining our tour group for a farewell dinner cruise in Sydney Harbor are memories we will have forever.
And the wombats and kangaroos? Yes, they are there--in great numbersand all that I had read about them is true.
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One of the first farm jobs that I had as a boy was raking brush. This time-honored task seems to be particularly reserved for the children of fruit growers and for me came just after my stint at fixing boxes. That job, paid at 5 cents a box started at age ten and consisted of repairing (or in some cases, re-constructing) one and one-eighth bushel field crates used for harvest and storage of apples and one-bushel pie boxes used for reject apples that were not sufficient quality to make the first grade and thus were destined for processing into sliced apples, apple sauce or cider. I'm not quite sure whether my father had my brothers and I repair all those boxes over and over again just to save money or whether he was ensuring our minds and bodies were fully occupied. Maybe some of both - what do you think? Great was the day when I could leave behind the hundreds (thousands!) of boxes fixed and unfixed and work in the orchard raking brush.
On most apple farms, each tree is pruned every year. The cut branches fall to the ground and besides making the orchard look messy (heavens!), they get in the way of other orchard work (mowing, spraying, thinning and picking). This sets the stage for the orchardist's son (or some other equally lucky person) to rake the branches from under the trees with a pitchfork and pile them into rows between the trees. Prior to 1955 or so, common practice was to push all of this brush out of the orchard with a bull rake - an assemblage of long wooden forks that slide along the ground in front of and pushed by a tractor. Not only was the brush gotten out of the way, but diseased branches were also removed from the orchard. This, in an era before effective fungicides, was an important method of disease control.
When Pam and I purchased Terhune Orchards in 1975, one of the gems that came with the farm was a 1939 McCormick-Deering tractor, Model O-14 (The O stands for orchard - this make later became International Harvester). It was fitted with a bull rake and for several years I used it to push brush out of the orchard and into the pasture to be burned. This was always an exciting job because I would burn the brush as I worked and if the tractor stalled at the brush pile, the only way to start it again way by hand cranking!! With the pile of burning brush in front, it made for interesting work. (This tractor is now the one that children may drive. It's along the drive between the chicken pen and the pasture.)
These days I take care of most of the brush by driving over it with a large and very sturdy rotary mower. The chopped up branches then decay and return to the soil. Some pear and peach brush still needs to be removed from the orchard for disease control and I still have the bull rake in the barn. I'd be glad to show it to you sometime. Happy Farming!
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The drought during the summer of 1999 made a lasting impression on me. Never in my 25 years of farming did I have to watch some of my crops die due to lack of water. Each year I plan and plant, with the expectation of harvesting crops later in the summer. There are lots of things that can happen to the crops. Too much rain, too much disease, hail, frost little can be done about them. But a farmer can do something about a lack of water irrigate. Supplying needed water to crops has allowed the United States to become the biggest agricultural producer in the world. Irrigation has made the Israeli desert bloom. But what about Cold Soil Road in central New Jersey?
My quest for more water began 23 years ago. Our life of farming had just started, and I realized the new dwarf apple trees that I was planting would need irrigation. Their root systems are small, and they do not thrive in a drought. I discovered that our farm well was actually capable of providing much more water than was needed for the house, Farm Store, and cider mill. In fact, it could yield 70 gallons per minute (gpm)! It is a remarkable well for this geographic area. In southern New Jersey, it is not unusual to find wells producing 800 to 1000 gallons per minute. The aquifers are plentiful and not far below the ground surface. In our area, 4 to 10 gallons per minute is more usual.
We installed trickle irrigation throughout the farm and have watered our fruits and vegetables from this well for over 20 years. But, as our farm expanded with our rental of adjacent land and with the growing of more intensive crops, our water need also increased. For example, to water our two acres of blueberries we use 40 gallons per minute. During a dry time, they need that much for 4 to 6 hours a day, 4 days a week and so on for all the crops.
The system of trickle irrigation is an extremely efficient use of water. Water is supplied to the plants using the "drip" or "trickle" approach, with the water slowly dripping out at ground level right where the plants need it. Very little is lost to evaporation. All the plantings are monitored with moisture sensors buried in the root zone. Crops are watered only when they need it.
Despite the efficient system and careful monitoring, 70 gpm only goes so far. We now farm about 100 acres on Cold Soil Road and, during a drought, our well does not have enough water. After the summer of 1999, I decided to drill another well. This decision led to quite an adventure. We drilled the well in March 2000, calling upon the Sam Stothoff Company to do the work. Well drillers are a "funny" sort. They ask only two questions where and how deep! You pay by the foot, not by the gallons produced. We chose a "likely" spot. However, 460 feet later, we had only 4 gpm enough for a house, but not worthwhile to us. What a disappointment.
I had previously decided that if the first well proved unsuccessful, I would give it one more try. The drillers still had the same two questions. I was stuck.
In the fall of that year, my friend, Doug Minard, an apple grower in the Hudson Valley of New York, visited Terhune Orchards. When I related the story of my unsuccessful well, he said, "I might be able to help you." My friend Doug is a dowser. He asked me for two coat hangers and a wire cutter. He made two "L" shaped wires, held them in his hands pointing forward, and said he was ready to go. Now, if you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I am a great believer in science and the scientific method. This just wasn't scientific. I wasn't sure what to do, but remembered what I had learned long ago if a friend wants to help you, let him. And besides, he couldn't do any worse than I had already done.
Before we went out to dowse a well, he suggested that he check how the wires worked. Walking back and forth around the farmstead, he soon located four of my buried water lines. I had known where they were, but he didn't. My scientific convictions began to waiver.
We then went out to the orchard where Doug located several good spots. He identified one of them as the best, and I marked it clearly.
The story ends in December, when I called the Stothoffs back. They drilled a 500-foot well that produces a terrific amount of water. I am no longer so skeptical of "dowsing." Maybe some things are not so easily explained by science. I am now working on developing an irrigation system to go with my new well. Maybe that will be the subject of a future article.
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One of the things that I like best about farming is that just when I am getting complacentfeeling that I know all about farmingsome new knowledge or new crop comes along that puts me in my place. I become challenged, intrigued and determined to learn all that I can.
Each year I seem to find another new and interesting crop to grow but this year's most interesting crop is one I have been growing for many years-Indian Corn. That's the old-time name for it, coming from the colored varieties grown by western Native Americans and ground into flour. In fact Pam and I were once recipients of blue cornbread baked by Fred and Donald Fox of Princeton from flour they ground themselves on a bicycle-powered grinder.
Today's politically correct name is Ornamental Corn, but somehow Indian corn seems better. A friend who described himself as the Indian Corn Champ of Pennsylvania approached me this year. He has been breeding Indian corn since he was ten years old and actually put himself through college by growing Indian corn! This might seem far-fetched except that some 15,000 ears of Indian corn grow on one acre. Figure 25 to 50 cents an earyou get the picture.
It has become difficult for my friend to continue his Indian corn work on his family farm in Pennsylvania. Not only does he now live near me here in New Jersey, but also he works about eight days a week. He and I formed a "partnership." All around the edge of the Terhune Orchards pumpkin patch this year are a total of eight different varieties of his Indian corngiant, miniature, popcorn, red, multicolored, green husk, purple husk. All summer he has been checking the corn. Each type is planted in four rows and is by itself so that the wind can blow pollen from one plant to anotherthus pollinating each kernal on each ear, but not onto another type of Indian Corn. That would result in a genetic mix-up and unpredictable looking corn.
It turns out that genes are everything in corn growing and especially Indian corn growing. My friend has been checking for genetic traits such as disease and insect resistance, color of the husk, height, size of the ear and relative maturity date. In September, he will harvest some of each and check for color of the kernal and shiny or dull appearance. Amazingly, regular yellow field corn and red Indian corn only differ by 1 or 2 genes. Then he will make the final choice of what seed to save to plant again next year. Hopefully this year's seed will yield a better result than last year's, next year's seed will be better than this year's, and so on.
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Passionate devotion to farming and in particular fruit growing is an easy judgment to make about this farmer. Not only does the constant change of circumstances and information keep me on my toes and in my place, but also farming continually educates me about the natural world around me.
This year has been marked by my search for water to irrigate our farms. I previously wrote about my new well at the main farm on Cold Soil Road and how my friend Doug Minard, fruit grower and water dowser, helped me find a good producing well.
All this work on water-- and writing about itgot me thinking about our other farm, the pick your own orchard on Van Kirk Road. Pam and I purchased that 26-acre property in 1980, five years after we started at Cold Soil Rd. When we planted the apple trees and raspberries, we connected to Elizabethtown Water Company's water main on Carter Road. We did this because of the area's reputation for scarcity of good wells. Besides, in those days, the Elizabethtown pressure was goodabout 80 lbs, supply was plentiful and clean and although a bit expensive for farming, it was feasible in that we needed no pump and didn't have to bear the cost of drilling a well.
Our water came through a 1000-foot easement that we purchased from a neighboring property owner and was distributed around the orchard through buried plastic pipes. The water is turned on and off with a timer to feed the drip irrigation lines. We planted the orchard in 1980 and 1981, which were both years with dry summers. With the drip irrigation system in place, we only lost 5 of the 10,000 trees that we planted. The connection to Elizabethtown was a good investment.
Now, it is twenty years later. Because of increased development in the area, Elizabethtown's pressure to us has dropped in half to 40 lbs. The price of the water has also gone up dramatically.
It is easy to see where this is headingI called my friend Doug and asked if he would come and "dowse" another well. He did and together we picked out three possible spots. Simple, right? Just call the well driller and start drilling. Not so! When I called the Sam Stothoff drilling company, one of their staff suggested I talk to a geologist, Matt Mulhall of Hunterdon County. I had just finished reading The Map That Changed The World about the world's first geological map, created by William Smith in 1815. I was ready! Talking to a geologist sounded interesting. It wasmore than I knew.
Matt ordered aerial photos of the farm. He also brought geological maps showing all the known subsurface fracture lines in the area as well as any streams. Water in our location, he explained, was best found in areas of fractured sub-surface rock. This is very different from the sandy, coastal plains of southern New Jersey where water is found almost anywhere.
Matt later told me that he was very discouraged when he arrived at the farmespecially when I told him about the neighbor's lack of success in drilling for water. He pointed out the known fracture lines on his map. These were created some 350 million years ago when the European continent, which had been part of the North American landmass, was pulled away. The Atlantic Ocean was formed and also fractures or faults all throughout our area. On Matt's map, all the fracture lines ran parallel, from NE to SW. Also, most of the streams in the area also ran NE to SW, often right over a fracture line. It didn't look like any fractures crossed the farm.
But when Matt and I walked around the property, something became apparent about the two distinct soil types on the farm. The line of separation between the red shale and the gray clay soils, when mapped out, ran NE to SW! In fact it represented a subsurface fracture zone and a chance for finding water. Before he left that day, Matt and I marked out two likely spots.
End of story? Not yet. I now had a dilemma. None of the dowser's spots and the geologist's spots were anywhere near each other. Despite my scientific leaning, I could not ignore the success I had last year that was based on the advice of my friend the dowser. The first attempt would be at one of his sites. I called the Stothoffs who sent driller Jim Kintzel. He set up and started downI waited anxiously. But it was not to be. After going 400 feet and finding no water, we stopped.
I was eager to try again. After all, the second try had been successful at my home farm. We picked one of the geologist's sites. Jim got set up to start the next morning. By the time I got there, Jim had been drilling for several hours, but I could tell what was going on from a long ways away. Jim and his helper were wearing rain suits. Since it wasn't raining, water was coming from somewhere!! The well was a success. The water company's low pressure and high prices would bother me no more.
The Stothoffs say that I am a lucky guy to find two good wells in our area. I agree that I am lucky, but not for that reason. I am lucky to be a farmer, a pursuit that challenges me, demands my full attention, and always teaches me new and interesting things.
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Come to think of it, the very idea of a greenhouse is a contradiction. I find this to be true every year at this time as I prepare our greenhouse for the winter. The greenhouse must let in lots of light, yet conserve heat as much as possible, be sturdy enough to withstand high winds, yet be economical enough in construction, maintenance and operating cost so that a crop can be grown for a profit. The greenhouse is your basic engineering nightmare.
One of the ways we have been able to build and maintain a profitable greenhouse is by living in New Jersey. Not only are the winters relatively mild and the winter light intensity moderate, our friend Bill Roberts lives in New Jersey and works as an agricultural engineer at Rutgers University. He is a nationally recognized expert in greenhouse design and operation and through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, his expertise is available to New Jersey farmers like me!
To build the best greenhouse for our use, Bill recommended a pipe frame house covered with clear polyethylene. The pipe frame is anchored in concrete and covered with two layers of "poly", with a small fan inflating the space between the layers. The air space provides insulation and strength. A single layer or un-inflated double layer would flap back and forth in the wind and soon start to tear. After all, it is only six thousandths of an inch thick!
Built into the greenhouse are gas heaters and cooling fans. Too little or too much heat is critical. On a cold winter's night, heater failure can lead to the loss of the crop in only a few hours. On a very sunny day in late spring, a failure of the exhaust fans can cause the temperature to soarkilling the crop in less than an hour. Finally there are the operation controls, which must control the ventilation louvers, fans and heaters all in one unit with very little room for error. Added to this is a device which will telephone a key employee or us if the temperature gets too high or too low. If this happens, a trip to the greenhouse is mandatory, the sooner the better.
This fall, we have to replace the plastic on the greenhouse. The sun's ultraviolet rays weaken the plastic and cause it to become cloudythat is less able to let in light. We usually have to do this every three years. This is an exacting job that must be done on a calm day. Everything must be fastened just right. A small hole can let the wind tear off the whole cover in short order.
This job will get done soon. The next crops- freesia and cyclamen - are already growing. The next time you see a day that is calm and at least 50 degrees, you will know what is happening at Terhune Orchards.
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In today's fast-moving world, it may seem strange to think of the importance of time in apple growing. After all, the apple just sits on the tree and waits to be picked, right? Well, not exactly. Starting in the spring when the apples bloom, the fruit grower must keep track of time.
Each apple variety takes a particular amount of time from bloom to harvest. Year after year, it doesn't change very much. Some of the earliest apples take only 70 days to mature, like the Lodi variety, a green cooking apple normally picked in early July. Add a bit more time and apples such as Gala (135 days) and McIntosh (140 days) are ready. Still later are Stayman Winesap and Rome Beauty (165 day) even though they flowered and started growing about the same time as the others in the spring.
Why is a fruit grower interested in all this time? Harvesting apples is the most time-important part of the yearly work of fruit growing. If picked too early, even by a few days, apples have not started the ripening process and stay green and tasteless inside. If picked too late, even by a few days, the ripening process is too far advanced, the apples quickly become soft, will not store well in cold storage and definitely will not please consumers.
Apple growers use other methods to determine the right "time" to pick. Sample apples are cut in half and wetted with an iodine solution, which shows the starch versus sugar content of the apple. Half starch and half sugar is about right. Growers also use a device to measure the sugar percentage of the apple. A "brix", as it is called, of 9 or 10 means the apple needs more time on the tree. A reading of 14 to 15 is ready to be picked.
Finally, the grower physically measures the firmness of the apple flesh. While a range of 13 to 18 lbs firmness is acceptable to the consumer, only the upper levels will store well. The lower firmness indicates the apple has had too much time on the tree and is ripening rapidly.
The true "final" measurement is to taste the apple, our oldest and most enjoyable fruit. When it is picked and ready to eat, it's about time.
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Growing peaches has always been a challenge for me here at Terhune Orchards. And it's not just because the farm where I grew up had only apples. It's more than that. To explain why, I'd better start where every farmer startswith the soil.
Our soil on Cold Soil Rd. has a high clay content, is somewhat acid, and does not drain well. In fact, our road was named in the old days and I suspect that "Cold Soil" is a polite, farmer way of saying "wet soil". Farmers are touchy about their soil. When I go to educational meetings and hear another farmer speak, they almost always say, "Our soil is a very strong soil" or "Our soil is a very good soil." Never do they say, "Our soil is a poor soil." But anyhowthe challenge for me is to adjust my soil conditions so our peaches will flourish. Before planting and periodically thereafter, I add ground limestone to the soil to adjust the acidity. Peaches like a ph of 6.5 to 7.0, whereas our natural soil ph is 5.5 to 6.0. Ph affects root functionat the lower ph levels, peach roots cannot pick up the nutrients that the tree needs from the soil.
I improve the drainage in the peach orchard by scraping soil into long ridges and planting each row of peaches on top of a ridge. I sometimes wonder what future archeologists will think lies under these ridges. But anyhowexcess water can drain away from the tree roots into the lower row middles. This makes tractor driving more difficult in wet weather, but the trees like it.
I counteract the tightness of the clay soil by planting cover crop which is plowed under, thus increasing the organic matter and loosening the soil.
The next challenge with growing peaches is another thing every farmer starts withsunlight. Peaches need to be planted so the leaves and the fruit on the limbs can get the maximum amount of direct sunlight. Take a look at our young peach orchard across Cold Soil Rd. from the main farm. The trees are wide and spreadingeven though quite young. This is very different from our more upright apple and pear trees. I have learned that I have to give the peaches space to spread out. Putting the trees close together may give more peaches in the short term, but the trees become quite upright. Bigger and more flavorful peaches come from the more spreading trees. This calls for patiencealways a special challenge for me.
Then there is the growing of each year's crop. Peaches require a lot of care! Fertilization and weed control are annual chores. Growing a crop depletes nutrients from the soil. I evaluate the amount that I need to replace by doing an annual soil test to see what is actually left in the soil and doing an annual leaf analysis test to see what the tree is actually getting from the soil. Under fertilization leads to weak trees and small, tasteless fruit. Over fertilization not only wastes my time and money, but results in green, mushy peaches and overgrowth of the tree. I try to get it just right.
Peach tree roots are very close to the surface (most are less than twelve inches) and susceptible to competition from weeds for water and nutrients. Using a herbicide that prevents weed seed germination allows me to reduce the fertilizer by two thirds and lets the soil moisture be used only for the tree. Without weed control, many of our peach trees would have died during last summer's drought.
Pruning and thinning are also part of the annual growing cycle. Pruning removes broken and diseased limbs, allows sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree and focuses the nutrients from the roots into the remaining branches and fruits. I like the challenge of pruning. It's me telling the tree where and how I want it to grow. Right or wrong, I'm in charge. But thinning is a nerve-racking challenge. A peach tree can have 30,000 fruit buds, each one capable of flowering and then becoming a peach. Some are removed by pruning and some of the flowers do not "set" into fruit, but still there will end up being 2000-3000 peaches on the tree. Whoopsthe tree can only hold and grow about 700 peaches to good size and flavor. Thinning is the process of removing the excess peaches and is done when the peaches are the size of cherries. This is one job that I can't stand. Even though I know it has to be done, it is very hard for me to throw those baby peaches on the ground.
The final part of the growing process is control of disease and insects. Diseases may cause the fruit to rot or they may mark the fruit. Control of diseases is sort of boring. Diseases are funguses, which proliferate rapidly in the moist, warm conditions of New Jersey. While we can help in their control by never allowing a diseased peach or limb to remain in the tree, fungicides must be used. As I said, boring. Insect control is a considerably more exciting challenge. Developing and using methods to control harmful insects without insecticides involves some very interesting technology. At Terhune Orchards, two insects, the oriental fruit worm and the peach tree borer, are controlled through understanding their life cycle and interfering with it. Male moths of these insects are able to find and mate with the females by following the female's scent or pheromone through the air. After mating, the females lay eggs, which hatch into worms that bore into the fruit or the tree. By hanging a small dispenser of this particular scent in each tree, we are able to confuse the males. They cannot find the females. No egg laying, no worms, no spraying.
There is also the challenge of picking and selling each year's crop. In comparison to apples, which are picked, put in cold storage, and then sold over a period of months, peaches are picked and must be sold immediately. They do not store well, especially when picked at their peak of flavor and goodness. We pick peaches into small boxes, sort them by hand and put them out for sale as soon as possible. Many different varieties are grown which gives us a progression of maturity dates all summer long. The peaches on any tree do not all mature at the same time. Each picking, we just take the peaches that are ready. We keep the trees low so that it is easier to pick them 3 to 4 times over. Gentleness, attention to detail, and quick response to changes in growing conditions are all challenges for me. When the peaches are ready, they won't wait. The farmer must be there.
The final challenge is a rather easy one to meet in New Jersey. That's the Three "H's". Peaches seem to do best in the summer when it is Hazy, Hot, and Humid. The weather is often like that during our summers. It is a difficult time of year for us humans, but Terhune Orchards peaches just love it. They reach their maximum flavor and sweetness, we pick them and then they're ready for sale. When that happens, I've met all my challenges and can end the day with a smile.
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When I started farming 21 years ago, deer were "horrible" in North Jersey, "bad" in Central, and "no problem" in the South. Now farmers statewide find it hard to live with the critters.
Since I'm not much of a shooter (neither through inclination nor effectiveness!), I've relied on fences to keep deer at bay for the past 18 years. At first I tried electric fencing. By golly, it worked. . . for a while! Unfortunately, the deer learned to defeat the permanent electric fence, and it became less effective each year.
In the past few years, I've been more successful in the never ending "deer wars." One approach is a "temporary" electric fence. The fence is temporary since the property owner from whom I rent 25 acres to grow sweet corn, pumpkins, etc. insisted that any fence be taken down each year after the harvest. He also rents the same land to deer hunters, who pay more than I do! I was amazed by how well this combination of electric fencing/no fencing kept out the deer!
After the harvest, the fence wires are unhooked from the insulators, taped to prevent tangling, and laid on the ground. The deer run through the fields, eat the left-over pumpkins and sweet corn, and take their chances with the hunters. The next spring, as crops emerge, it takes two people about two hours to restore the fence. This system appears to be a good solution for annual crops. It seems to owe its success to the fact that each year the fence is "new" to the deer! So, for the cost of about $1660, I've had good deer control for the past three years.
For permanent plantings, such as apples, fences are needed all year. Therefore, in our 26-acre apple orchard, I put up a second type of fencean eight-foot high woven wire barrier. Debate about this type of barrier fence usually focuses on height. How high should it be in order to be effective? After all, deer can jump an eight-foot fence. But, in my experience, they just don't. This fence is not "high tech", and it does add a "penitentiary" look to the farm. However, at a cost of $11,754, it is permanent, low maintenance, and has been very effective in keeping out the deer, which, after all, is the main idea.
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On Thursday, May 15, the day after my 53rd birthday, Pam and I hosted a Twilight Fruit Meeting at Terhune Orchards. Twilight Meetings have long been an integral part of Rutgers University's Agricultural Extension Service and New Jersey's agricultural heritage.
Although many Americans know that the USA is a world leader in producing and exporting agricultural products, few know of the influence of Agricultural Extension and State Experiment Stations on our incredible agricultural productivity. It started with the federal Hatch Act in the 1940s, which mandated that every state designate a "land grant" agricultural college and agricultural experiment station. Their mission was to provide technical information and research results to farmers.
Since there are fewer farm chores in the winter than during the summer, we have more time to attend conferences on agricultural production, marketing, and finance. Although the need for technical information does not diminish during the summer, the hectic growing season means that farmers have less time to meet. This situation fostered the concept of "Twilight Meetings" usually held in the early evening at different growers' farms around the state. At these meetings, extension specialists present timely information on growing conditions and disease or insect problems.
Prior to the May 15 meeting, I asked retired Extension Fruit Specialist Ernest Christ of Hightstown, NJ, about his "twilight" experiences. During his years at Rutgers, Ernie participated in Twilight Fruit meetings in Bergen, Monmouth, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington, Gloucester and Atlantic counties as many as 35 to 40 each year! Over the years, I was one of the many farmers to see, hear, and learn from Ernie at these meetings. His predecessor, Professor Farley, attended some Twilight Meetings by taking the train from New Brunswick to Flemington and being driven from the station to the host farm in a Model T Ford car! (That, of course, was before my time.)
The Twilight Meeting at Terhune Orchards featured specialists in fruit growing, disease, insect and weed control, and pesticide handling. Those attending toured our newest peach, dwarf apples, blueberry, and raspberry plantings. We demonstrated our system of nets used to protect our blueberries from the birds and our new Vicon fertilizer spreader, which spreads fertilizer exactly where it's needed in the row and skips the walkways where it's not. We showed off our latest and greatest deer fence and our new agricultural-chemical handling facility where we store all pesticides used on Terhune's 225 acres and fill the sprayers.
The farmers stopped work early to attend and they stayed late to enjoy the magnificent weather and the camaraderie while sipping cider and eating donuts. All in all, a "fruitful" and productive Twilight Meeting.
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For this farmer, winter is not over until it's time to plant peach and apple trees. Each spring at Terhune Orchards, we plant new trees to replace 5% to 10% of our fruit acreage. This practice keeps our orchards young, healthy, and productive.
Once we know the type of trees we want to plant, we contact as many as ten nurseries in five states to find the variety and rootstock combination we want. If we know what we want far enough in advance, the nursery can grow them to order. All fruit trees start out as a "scion variety" budded or grafted onto a rootstock. The scion usually determines the size, shape, color, flavor, and ripening time of the fruit. The rootstock usually determines the tree size, anchorage, resistance to wetness and drought, and its ability to get water and nutrients from the soil.
Peach rootstocks are grown from peach pits planted in the spring. In late summer, the nursery staff bud the scion variety onto the young rootstock by slipping a bud from a branch of the desired variety into a slit made in the rootstock bark. The surgery site, which is tightly tied with a rubber band, heals or "calluses" over and remains dormant until the following spring.
Once the bud begins to grow, the part of the rootstock that grows above the bud is removed. The new tree continues to grow until fall when it once again becomes dormant. At this time, the bare root tree is dug. By now, the tree is between 5 feet and 6 feet tall, has a few small branches, and a slender trunk between 0.5 inches and 0.75 inches in diameter.
The tree spends the winter in temperature- and humidity-controlled storage until shipped to us in the spring. The tree we plant is actually 2 years old!
The nurseries ship the trees to us by April 1, the best date for our location. Any earlier and the ground is still too wet. Any later and the trees will not have established their roots before the summer heat begins.
In preparation for planting, I first mark out the orchard into rows. This is a nerve-wracking process because for some reason, a "good farmer" is defined by the straightness of his rows.
Because the trees are so small and seem lost in their spaces, I'm often tempted to plant them closer together. If I did, the trees would be overcrowded when mature. Discipline prevails, and we provide a 16 feet by 20 feet spot for our trees. If we plant more than 200 trees, we usually rely on a tree planter pulled by a tractor to reduce the labor involved.
To actually plant the tree, we dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the tree's roots and at the same depth as their former home in the nursery. We replace the dirt and tamp it firmly in place with our feet (thus the origin of the phrase "a plantin' foot). Big clods of dirt are broken down to prevent air spaces that might dry out and kill the roots. Fertilizer, which might cause root "burn", is also held back at this time.
Finally, the tree is "headed", by cutting the tree back to a height of about 30 inches. We do this to encourage branching as the tree grows and to keep the roots from becoming overly stressed by a too-large top.
During the past 21 years, I've planted about 25,000 apple trees and 8,000 peach trees at Terhune Orchards. Each year, planting time is a sure sign of life on the farm starting anew.
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hat adjectives come to mind when you hear the word "raspberry"? Red? Full? Ripe? Luscious? Sweet? Maybe so, but on this farm others are foremost frost tolerant, disease resistant, everbearing, and summer-bearing, for example.
At Terhune Orchards we grow two different types of raspberrieseverbearing and summer bearing. Everbearing raspberries can have two crops per year. In July, the first crop of berries comes on last year's growth of canes (floricanes). In August, the second crop of berries comes on this year's growth of canes (primocanes). Summer-bearing raspberries have only one crop per year with the berries on canes that grew the previous year (floricanes).
This spring I planted 1.5 acres of florican bearing summer raspberries. The entire process began last year when Pam and I realized that we never had enough raspberries to satisfy our summer pick-your-own customers. To make sure that everyone got their fill, we estimated that we should at least double our production!
But, what kinds of raspberries should we plant? Selecting the right varieties to plant became the most interesting and difficult part of the project. What do our customers want to pick? What proportion of red, purple, and black raspberries should we have? How many thornless blackberries? And, should we take a chance on new, potentially great varieties that are not as yet extensively tested in our area? Some berries may be excellent when grown in Maryland but fail in New Jersey where our winters are more severe. Or, some may be superb in New York State but fail to flourish in our hotter and more humid New Jersey summers.
To help us sort through these considerations, we contacted the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service, which provides New Jersey fruit producers with technical expertise, new variety testing, and production recommendations. With the help of New Jersey Small-Fruit Specialist Joe Fiola, we chose some well-known red raspberries (Revelie and Taylor), some newer reds (Canby and CDH), and some experimental reds (Jam 2, Gell 114, and Gel 20). We also included black raspberries (Haut and Bristol), a purple raspberry (Royalty), and a thornless blackberry (Chester).
Next we prepared the fields. Since raspberries are a permanent crop, we limed the fields before planning to adjust the soil acidity. At the same time, we also installed the drip irrigation system, placing 0.5 inch plastic tubing in each row with a tiny hole every 12 inches to release the water. Finally, each row was mounded up and covered with black plastic mulch. The mounding keeps the plants free from phytopthera (a root rotting disease) and the black plastic keeps weeds from competing with the young berry plants for the first year. The plastic will be removed next year.
After so much preparation, planting almost seems like an afterthought. Plants are spaced between 2 and 5 feet, and the drip irrigation allows us to water the new plants right away. Unfortunately, it will take two years before the fruit of these plants gets into your picking containers. Until that time, we can still enjoy the luscious, red raspberries so generously provided by our existing berry patch. Happy picking!
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The two basic resources that a farmer has to work with are the soil and the weather. And one of the most "interesting" aspects of farming is its relationship to the weather. Severe weather takes its toll on farm crops-with too hot, too cold, too much or too little rain, and high winds-lots of things can happen. And, except for a few techniques, there is little the farmer can do. At Terhune Orchards, we have a 5,000 square foot greenhouse that provides a protected growing environment all year. We also protect our strawberries from frost on cold nights in the spring by spraying water from our irrigation system over the field.
This spring we are working on the largest and most challenging crop protection technique ever. As I write this, it is not quite completed, but I am already getting questions. "What are you building out there? It seems to be near the cherries? Are you still going to have pick-your-own cherries?" The answer is, yes, it is near the cherries. In fact, it is over the cherries. The structure is called a Haygrove High Tunnel. I purchased it from the Haygrove Company of Herefordshire, England and its purpose is to protect the cherries from my friend and nemesis, the weather.
Many of Terhune Orchards pick-your-own cherry customers have seen the devastating effect the weather can have. During the cherry ripening period, which is the final two weeks before harvest, the cherries greatly increase in size. That is, the cells in the cherry are expanding so rapidly that the skin of the cherry can barely keep up. Its size has to increase rapidly as well. If, during this time, a significant rainfall occurs, disaster strikes. The cherries absorb the raindrops, causing even more cell expansion and even larger cherries. The skin can't keep up and cracks develop, making splits in the cherry. Decay starts in the exposed areas of the flesh of the cherry-an unattractive and unappealing mess. Three years ago, we had three days of rain before cherry harvest, and 100% of the cherries cracked. Not one was picked! Just awful, a total loss!
Enter the Haygrove Tunnels. Right now, halfway through construction, there are just rows of high metal hoops over the cherries. In a week or two we will cover the hoops with clear plastic covering and hold it down by an arrangement of criss-crossed ropes. In times of high temperature or strong winds, the tunnels can be vented by pushing up the plastic towards the top of each tunnel. Later, the edges can be pulled back down as needed.
Since we started working on the tunnels, I have also realized that they can protect the cherries from frost during bloom. That's a pretty good thing, since the cherries bloom early and the blossoms can sometimes freeze, which means no fruit. Another thing the tunnels might do is to move forward the date for picking the cherries. The way this works is that we could cover the cherries early and raise the average temperature under the tunnels in the spring.
One of my fruit-growing friends in California, Steve Blizzard, did this recently. As a grower in California, he does not farm in acres, such as our two acres of cherries. He farms in hundreds of acres, as do most California farmers. Steve's cherry orchard is very large and his crop is packed and sold wholesale, with most of the cherries exported to Asian or Pacific Rim countries. In such a marketing plan, having your cherries come in a week or two early gives you a significant advantage. Steve's location is not so susceptible to spring frost or pre-harvest rain. But getting his crop marketed early has really paid off.
At Terhune Orchards, I am thinking that bringing the cherries in early might not be the best idea. Right before cherry time is pick-your-own strawberries. It might be better not to have everything at once.
This year, at least, we will concentrate on rain and frost protection. The Haygrove High Tunnels will cover half of our two acres of cherries. Pick-your-own cherry harvest will be the first or second week of June. Check our website, www.terhuneorchards.com, or call the farm in late May for a more exact date and come check out those Haygroves!
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