Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery


Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

feeding the trees

We spent a beautiful Saturday last weekend feeding compost to all the trees in the orchard, returning some nutrients to them in return for all the apples we have harvested. This compost is leaf and wood based, coming from a local landscaper, which is perfect for trees - all the fungi and bacteria are wood-based species, so they will hopefully continue to be happy and productive in the orchard. Feed the soil, feed the tree.

We have also been surrounding our baby trees with wire cages, to keep the rodents from girdling them. Voles killed most of the trees we have had to replace, so this is an important safety measure. So, the orchard is ready for winter. Our next task will be ordering any new trees or rootstock we can’t resist this winter, and then pruning next March. Thank heavens this is a seasonal venture!

On this day of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for all of you who support our orchard and allow us to keep it in production. A few years ago, we faced the choice of taking care of the trees or chopping them all down, and it’s thanks to you all that we can justify the time and care we put into the orchard. There is nothing more satisfying than growing food.

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Last weekend of picking apples

This weekend we have the Freedom variety still on the trees, as well as cider and apples for sale in the cider mill. Although the rain has passed, it is very breezy (OK, windy) and cool up here, so if you’re coming to visit, bring an extra layer or two.

We will be picking the rest of the apples this week and putting them away for cider for a few local events. These are the Sanderson Academy PTO’s Local Goods catalog, which raises money for the school by selling goods and services produced in Ashfield and Plainfield; and Franklin County Cider Days the first weekend in November, when we will be open for orchard walks, cider and baked goodies, and we will host a talk by Michael Phillips, author of
The Apple Grower. Check our link to the Cider Days website for more details on this event if you’re interested.

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Ashfield Fall Festival

We had a great time at Fall Festival. Thanks!
Coming up, Franklin County Cider Days November 6th & 7th.

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pick-your-own limited next week

The apples are really starting to drop from the trees, so we will be picking most of the apples this week. We will leave a few Freedom trees for pick-your-own next weekend, but mostly we will have cider, pre-picked apples, and fall views from the orchard available next weekend.
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Oct. 9th, 10th & 11th

For Columbus Day weekend we will be open all three days 12-5.
We will be picking Freedoms, Cortlands, and Liberties.

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Varieties available this weekend...

for pick-your-own are Golden Delicious, Liberty, Cortland, and Freedom. This is likely the only weekend we will have so many varieties available at one time. Freedoms are a great storage apple, good for fresh eating and baking. The foliage is still heading toward peak, so the views are great from the orchard.

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Now picking

Now picking, Liberty, Cortland, old fashioned Golden Delicious. The leaves are starting their change, and the colors are looking great.

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Off and running

We are off and running with what looks to be a great apple season, on September 18th we should have Liberties, Cortland, and Golden Delicious ready.

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Opening ?

We will be open for the 11th but with limited varieties to pick.
We will have cider and ready-pick apples for sale

WE WILL HAVE MORE VARIETIES AND BETTER PICKING ON SEPTEMBER 18th.

What started as an early season has really slowed down recently and what predicted would be an early season has nearly fallen in to normal for many varieties.

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When will we open?

We should open the weekend of September 11 for pick-your-own, cider here at the farm and farmer’s markets. The recent cool weather slowed down the ripening, so a Labor Day weekend opening is not going to happen (phew! That’s just too early). The apples are still ahead of schedule but not 3 weeks ahead, as they were before this recent cool snap.

The barn is really coming along - siding and roofing on this past week, the floor will be poured this coming week. Right now it’s in the giant covered sandbox phase, complete with our son’s dump trucks and other sand toys.
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Infastructure

What’s a farm without a good barn? We have been working out of a series of sheds for quite a few years and have finally been able to undertake building a new barn. It will provide us with better animal housing, hay storage, equipment storage, an area for sorting apples, and a small cold storage for apples. We were not able to start it as early in the year as we would have liked to, so you will probably see it going up when you come to pick. (This is also why we have been remiss in our updates on this site this summer!)
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Apples are still ahead of schedule

As the picking season grows closer, the apples are still way ahead of schedule. The apples on our summer apple tree were ripe about 2 weeks ahead of schedule, and our neighbor Alan Suprenant has some varieties that are 3 weeks ahead! So, we will likely be opening two weeks earlier than we did last year. That would mean opening early to mid-September, with the season peaking around the beginning of October rather than toward the end.

We have a lot more varieties fruiting this year, including Cortlands, Golden Delicious, and MacIntosh, so there will be plenty of apples to choose from. Every tree looks like a wall of fruit, it is truly an amazing fruit year this year. So despite the hail damage there should be plenty of apples for everyone.
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Hail

Well, we dodged the bullets of frost, fungus, and various insects, but got hit by hail. Pancake-shaped hail an inch or more across fell (well, blew horizontally) for what felt like forever but was probably a few minutes. Some apples were damaged; we haven’t done an extensive survey to figure out the percentage. Not having had hail damage like this before, we aren’t certain the impact it will have on apples when they are ripe, but they will certainly be marked. We are thankful that we are not selling to supermarkets, where apples with any blemish, however superficial, can’t be sold. Our larger commercial neighbors are not so lucky. Hopefully you folks who buy our apples can stand the “hail-kissed” look on some apples this year; if not, there is always cider Happy.
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So far so good

With the hot, dry weather we have been having, there is very little chance of scab infection, and we see next to none in the orchard. Also a reduced chance of getting late blight on the tomatoes and potatoes, thankfully. Not too many insect pests either, so far. More waiting to go before we know how the insect damage will be. Meanwhile, the apples are starting to turn red and continue to get bigger despite no rain. The weather couldn’t be more different than it was last year, it will be interesting to see if the apples taste different when they have ample sun and heat.
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Thinning done. Phew!

At last, the pick your own varieties are thinned. We just don’t have the labor to thin everything, and with apples we will cider it is not necessary. We got a start on pruning off watersprouts too, usually an August job but thinning is easier if we cut some of the rampant growth out of the tree first. We have a giant pile of thinned-off apples - we keep them in 5-gallon buckets for a week if possible so that exiting pests can’t find soil to pupate in, then we pile them in a wagon until they are good and aged, again so any possible pests have difficulty surviving. Eventually we compost them. The apples we left on the trees are getting huge. It is so satisfying to see them sizing up, all spaced out and healthy looking.

Now we move on to worrying about our last pests of the season - keeping our eyes open for codling moths, checking apple maggot fly traps, and watching for secondary scab lesions. We will find out if our work last season picking up all late season drops has reduced these pests. Let’s hope so!
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thinning time

Every spare moment is spent thinning apples these days. Apples blossom in clusters, and despite a hard freeze locally we had very good pollination on most of the trees, so we have a great deal of work to do to get each cluster down to one apple. The pick-your-own varieties in particular fruit very heavily and need a lot of thinning. The apples are sizing up quickly this year, as the season still seems to be advanced compared to prior years. We will be watching for when our earliest variety becomes ripe so we can tell when our commercial varieties will be ready.

All of our biennial trees are fruiting this year, and since we have little to no scab in the orchard this year, even our macIntoshes are fruiting. So we have lots and lots of apples that look great at this point.

Lots of life in the trees as usual - lots of lady bugs and daddy long legs, as well as other spiders, and of course a chorus of birds all over in the orchard. We have one deer that visits regularly this year, nipping branches off the trees closest to the woods. No big deal, as long as the newest trees aren’t targeted too much (and he or she doesn’t start bringing friends).
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The growing season is moving along

Apples are developing, many are an inch in diameter already. The primary infection period for the fungus scab is over, and we see very little infection this year. Plum curculio, an insect that attacks apples at this time, is certainly active, hammering the trees we don’t spray with clay. The remaining trees are all white with clay, the new trees are mulched, and we are beginning to mow under the trees. Apple development is still ahead of where it should be, which means we will need to begin thinning very soon. And who knows? If the apples continue to develop at this rate, we will have apples in September rather than October.
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Low temperatures

We had overnight temperatures in the mid 20’s (24.7) on Tuesday (May 11) and were very worried about buds and blossoms that are vulnerable at this stage. After assessing things for a day or two afterwards it looks like we dodged that bullet. Our location on a slope towards the top of the hill lends itself to good air drainage and that combined with early sun may have saved us. Other growers I know in New York and New Hampshire were not as lucky, losing much of their potential crop.
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blossom time

Most of the trees in the orchard went from pink flower buds to full bloom in the last two days, thanks to July weather in May. There were pollinators buzzing around - our trusty bumblebees and lots of tiny bees and pollinating wasps and flies. There are also a ton of ladybugs, a very good sign for keeping aphids in check. All in all, a fantastically beautiful day in the orchard.
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spring update

We have been busy in real life, if not on this page. We pruned the entire orchard in late February to mid March, and planted new trees where others died so that the orchard is once again filled in. A good thing we got all that completed in a timely manner, since the warm weather in April accelerated bud development. The trees are currently about 2 weeks ahead of schedule in terms of flowering and leafing out - the apple trees are likely to bloom this weekend, and the other fruit trees (plum, peach, pear and cherry) are in full bloom now. Hopefully enough pollinators are flying around that we will get good fruit set. We have sprayed our first sulfur of the season on the scab-susceptible varieties, and had a good wetting period. The idea with this treatment is that the fungal spores of the scab are released after a certain amount of warmth, when they get wet, and they need to stay wet to grow. The sulfur is sprayed on the leaves, where it changes the pH (acidity) of the water on the leaves and makes the leaf an inhospitable place for the fungus. Scab spores are only released for a limited period of time, so if there is sulfur on the trees for every wet period during that season, most of the scab damage can be avoided. Trees that are heavily infected with scab will lose all their leaves, which is very costly and stressful for the tree, and the fruit will develop black cankers. Some of the MacIntosh fruit look like walnuts when scab infection is bad enough. Luckily, a large portion of our orchard is scab resistant, so the sulfur sprays are unnecessary on those trees.

On the rest of our farm, the chickens are thrilled to be outside every day after a long winter trapped in their coop, and the sheep are once again eating fresh grass and turning up their noses at the hay. We have planted some early season vegetables, which are coming along slowly, and generally getting the gardens into shape for the prime growing season. And we got a puppy in March, Watermelon the labradoodle, who loves to herd escapee chickens back into their fence, watch the sheep, help us plant trees, and generally get her nose in every aspect of farm life.
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