There's more to the lifecycle of apple trees than just blossoms and fruit. Spring is a tenuous time for a grower. After the flowers drop off the tree, the tiny budding fruit is extremely vulnerable. Weather fluctuations, insects, and plant diseases pose a threat to young fruit, and it's up to the orchard growers to keep a close eye on the tree health. We talked with a few of our orchard partners who provide their Michigan-grown apples for our cider.
Justin Hunsberger, Hunsberger Orchards
With two locations in Fennville, Hunsberger Orchards has 130 total acres of farm that grows stone fruits such as cherries, plums, apricots, and pears. If you've had Cherry Mitten, you've had Hunsberger cherries. This time of year, Justin and his dad, Gary, manage the full farm.
"We've already trimmed our trees in the winter," Justin says, "and now we are keeping a watchful eye for bugs and fungus. We have some small fruit starting to pop the shuck, so we have to keep a close watch."
Scott Phelps, Gold Coast Farms
Just down the road in Fennville, Scott Phelps of Gold Coast Farms is plowing a field that he'll prepare for planting trees next season. As for his current 80 acres of apples (in addition to 40 acres of peach trees), the beginnings of fruit are taking shape. While looking at rows of Gala apple trees, Scott pointed out the multiple stems that once held blossoms, but could turn into fruit.
"We look at a limb to see how many apples might show up here. Most of the time, there are too many at the end of a branch that can crowd each other out, so we thin them to make sure there will be fruit that survives and grows all the way to harvest."
Allan Overhiser, Overhiser Orchards
Overhiser Orchards is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and we are proud they've been providing us with apples grown on their 300-acre farm in South Haven, MI. (You can try our Orchard Series: Overhiser Orchards cider in our Tasting Room.)
In addition to apples, Overhiser grows cherries, plums, pears, peaches, apricots, and a few blueberries.
Fifth-generation owner Allan Overhiser says it's all about maintenance this time of year. "We spray the trees for diseases in the spring. We've got to get our bees in, and get enough pollenating weather to set the crop. We've had a lot of rain, and the bees like it about 50 degrees and sunny. There were several days that weren't that warm, and we had a lot of clouds. There was one cold one night that took out some apples in one place.
Now we are trying to figure out where fruit survived the freeze, and moving our efforts there. If fruit freezes, you either have fruit or you don't. We are a diverse farm, so even though some apples didn't make it, the peaches and cherries have come through nicely. Diversity help us."
Matt Miller, Miller Fruit Farms
Matt Miller is the fourth generation working on Miller Fruit Farms. This year was its 100-year anniversary. Matt and his dad, Ray Miller, have 100 acres of apples, tart cherries, and blueberries.
"In the spring, we are trying to make the tree as healthy as possible to have the best chance for a large fruit set," Matt says.
"We are assessing the size of the fruit set, and we'll have to decide how much we're going to thin, or if we need to. We are also spraying to protect both the trees and the young fruit from diseases and insects based on temperature and weather conditions.
We had poor pollination weather this spring. It was cold and rainy, just not good weather for the bees to work in. Now that the weather has warmed, both the trees and the fruit are growing rapidly. Spring is a busy time of the year for us."
Each of these orchards are very close to Virtue Cider. Come visit us, learn about our ciders, and taste the fruits of Southwest Michigan.