Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery


Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

Bummer Season

This season has been a total bummer.
This was the notice we had to post this year regarding our season-

We want to let folks know that our apple crop is light this year, and the quality is not as good as previous years. Our growing conditions are the absolute opposite of last year's, with a mild winter that killed no insects, frost limiting fruit set, rain at the wrong moments in the spring, and drought the rest of the year stressing the trees. The result is fewer apples and more damage, either by disease or insects. This is in addition to losing our entire peach crop to a -21 cold event in February.

Thus we had to close early, we were only able to be open 2 weeks for PYO, and also have a very limited crop for next years hard cider production. We are likely to have reduced fruit set for next years crop. Time will tell.
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Season Opener

Lessons in recovering an existing orchard

Many of you are familiar with our patriotic lineup of pick your own apples, Liberty and Freedom. We had to determine what varieties they were based on descriptions, since we had no record of what was planted in our orchard, and these were our best guesses. We were never really confident on the Freedom apple identity, so when we had to replace a few that died, we decided to buy some Freedom apples from a nursery instead of grafting our existing apples into those spots. Those bought Freedom trees fruited this year, and it turns out the apples we were calling Freedom are something else! We went back to apple descriptions, and decided the closest match to the apples we have are the Jonafree. We may have to buy one or two of these varieties to be sure, but in the meantime that is what we will be calling those apples.

So, in this tumultuous presidential election year, we no longer have our patriotic apple lineup. Instead, we will be picking Liberty apples, followed soon thereafter by Jonafree. Same great apple, new name. We will have some availability of Cortland apples in the middle, but it was a rough growing year and the Cortlands have apple scab damage (surface blemish on minimally affected apples).

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Blossom time

We are in the midst of a slow, gradual blossom season. Most of our varieties are flowering well this year, and there has been good weather for pollinators mixed with cool temperatures that have kept the blossoms going for a long time. Our later blooming varieties, including Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Freedom are all in full bloom, while the petals are starting to fall from Liberty, Mac, and Williams Pride. Our neighbors' honeybees are visiting, along with bumblebees and other native pollinators. A week from now we should have a better sense of fruit set, but everything looks good at this point for the apples.

It has been great to visit with people who have come to the tasting room hours on Saturdays. We have the time to really talk with folks, which is a pleasure. We love the energy and craziness of pick your own weekends and Cider Days in the fall, but it's nice to have some more laid back retail time as well.

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King blossom

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Winter Planning, Spring work

Time has flown since apple season ended with our last post in this blog. We are so grateful for the seasonality of farming; we could not keep up the pace without shifts in work intensity and type over time.

Winter is our time for assessing how the season went, and planning for the future. It is also for some healing down time. And of course, it is when our cider ferments, when we do tasting and science to determine which blends we will put together, and how much of each variety of hard cider to make. We ended up bottling the Farmhouse cider in the middle of February, and the Hopped, Cyser, and some New England in April, so we will have all four varieties available when we open our tasting room May 14.

This mild, el Nino winter carried with it some concerns about the trees not hardening off, or waking too early in the spring, but so far, it appears the weather has not been catastrophic for our apple crop. There were some scares, of course; what is farming without worrying about the weather? We had a low of -18F in mid-February, which may be the reason we have no peach blossoms this spring. And then we had a mid-teens low after the trees started waking in the spring; we are still waiting to see how that will affect apple blossoms, though it appears it didn't wipe them out completely. Meanwhile, we had plenty of snow-free days to prune the orchard, and a long stretch of good weather in which we planted several hundred new trees, both replacing ailing trees in the existing orchard block and expanding our plantings. We received a grant from the Grinspoon foundation last year to put in a dwarf tree, trellis planting that is in place as of this fall. This is an experiment, to see how dwarf cider trees do in our low input, minimally managed orchard. Let the science begin!

We are in the calm between storms at this moment, when the trees are planted and mulched, we just got a good rain, it is not quite time to start spraying for pests and diseases, and it is still the off season for our hard cider tasting room. That all ends very soon, since we have an open house May 14 from 1-5 to celebrate the release of this year's ciders, and to kick off our tasting room season. The tasting room will be open from 1-5 every Saturday all summer, so folks can count on us being here if you want to stop by and get some cider. Last year the orchard was in full bloom on May 14, so it could be a spectacular day to come visit. Nothing beats walking through the orchard full of apple blossom perfume, listening to bees buzz around enjoying the flowers.
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