Hemlock Grove Farm grows delicious organic apples in Danby, NY. Our farming philosophy focuses on the safest growing methods available, to protect the health of apple eaters and the natural environment alike. We offer our apples to the greater Ithaca area through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, and for sale by the bushel. In our production of organically grown apples (certified by Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York), we use techniques that differ from conventional methods.
We use no herbicides. Grass and wildflowers grow right up to the tree trunks and are controlled by mowing. Compared to trees grown in herbicided strips of bare soil, we may have slightly lower yields, but the grass competition results in a more concentrated, flavorful apple.
We practice strict orchard sanitation, which interrupts pest and disease life cycles. Promptly picking up and removing fallen apples stops pests from overwintering in the soil. Mowing fallen leaves into windrows in autumn encourages their quick decomposition, preventing fungal spores from surviving into the next year.
For insect control, we use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis, a kind of bacteria that makes a protein toxic only to caterpillars), spinosad and Grandevo (also from soil microbes) and clay sprays. The clay coats the trees and fools the insects. We monitor moth pests in the orchard to time our sprays. A year with strong pressure from plum curculio may require the use of pyrethrum, which is derived from chrysanthemum flowers.
We mainly spray against one disease--apple scab. For apple scab, we primarily spray sulfur or potassium bicarbonate (similar to baking soda) plus potassium silicate plus vegetable oil, and time these sprays to cover predicted fungal spore releases in the spring. Occasionally, soggy weather will necessitate something a little stronger to prevent disease; if this occurs we employ lime sulfur.
Most orchardists use sprays of synthetic chemicals to thin the apple crop when it sets too heavily. We thin the crop by hand, which requires significant labor, but also allows us to carefully remove imperfect apples from the trees. We are experimenting with a baking soda spray to thin the crop.
Our trees are not fertilized with soluble nitrogen. The fertilizers we use, such as compost, liquid calcium, micronutrients, and liquid seaweed, complement natural nutrient cycling in the orchard, and pose little hazard to groundwater. We do not “push” the trees for rapid growth and highest yields, which also helps to reduce problem diseases and some leaf-feeding pests.
"Deep organics"--We pay a lot of attention to the orchard floor under the trees, something many orchardists spray, mow, and otherwise ignore. Maintaining 100% vegetative cover has multiple benefits. The soil environment around the tree is diverse, active, and helps suppress trunk diseases like crown gall. Our Cornell soil health test results are excellent, demonstrating a great environment for root growth. The trees plus sod system removes CO2 from the air and fixes it in soil, roots, leaves, fruit, and wood, helping to fight global warming. Finally, we manage the orchard floor to encourage broadleaf weeds and wildflowers such as clovers, Queen Anne's lace, yarrow, black-eyed Susan, and our favorite, wild basil (Clinopodium). These provide habitat and food for beneficial insects.
We often conduct on-farm experiments, trialing innovative techniques and new environmentally benign sprays. In recent years we have experimented with neem oil (a natural fungicide) and herbal teas to encourage tree health.
As you can see, we are using an integrated system that takes considerable hand labor and produces slightly lower yields than a conventional orchard. However, our apples and cider are highly flavored, and we are working with growing methods that we feel are safer for the consumer, the grower, the water, the air, and the wild plants and animals--including the many species of beneficial insects.
Thank you for supporting our efforts and enjoying our apples!!