Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery

Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

PYO over for the season

Sept. 30th 2018 was the last day of pick your own apples for the season.

It has been a pretty bad growing year here due to rain and other factors. The tools available to us for organic growing had a hard time keeping up with the disease and pest pressure. We didn't have our usual selection of fruit and the apples did not size up to usual standards. Its been hard financially to have 3 poor or average crop years in a row now and we appreciate all those who came out to support us regardless. Thanks.


Looking forward to another pick your own season

After a wonky growing season, we are getting ready for harvest once again. We have spent the entire season holding our breath, waiting to see what the weather extreme of the moment meant for the apples. The trees had good blossom and fruit set, but dropped a lot of fruitlets in June; then with never ending rain they dropped a lot of leaves too, and while the remaining apples stayed on the trees they did not size up. So we have small apples this year. The rain interfered with spraying schedules, of course, so we are getting the full experience of being an organic orchard in terms of how attractive the apples are. But the season has ended with more sun, leading some trees to open new leaves in September; hopefully that will allow them to put some resources aside for next year. I even saw a tree in a neighboring town in blossom!

What does this mean for apple picking this year? There will be a small crop available on the Libertys our first weekend, September 21-23. We have a heavier Jonafree crop available the following weekends. The Cortlands also have some fruit, and will probably be ready the last weekend in September. We may not have enough apples to produce much fresh cider the first weekend we are open. But the apples should color up well, since light is getting into the trees unimpeded by leaves. We will definitely be open Columbus Day weekend, and since it falls early this year we may be open the following weekend. That will depend on ripening schedule of the Jonafree, and how many apples are still on the trees at that point.

As with any kind of farming, data on past growing seasons is a less reliable predictor of the present these days, as we experience the changes wrought by climate change. Apple crop size is down across our region this year, and the explanations vary widely. Mostly they come down to stresses on the trees that make them less able to commit resources to fruit, and in some cases they are not even surviving the stresses. We explore ways to support the trees in the face of these challenges, with lots of discussions with like-minded growers, so we can continue to grow apples into the future.

Already harvest season!

After a busy summer, the apple crop looks good. Growing conditions could not have been more different from last year, with plenty of rain and overall cool temperatures. Following last year's difficult season we were apprehensive, but the apples have done well. We have small amounts of fruit to harvest now - peaches, early apple varieties - but the bulk of our crop, including the pick your own varieties, will not be ready until the third week in September.

This time of year, we get a lot of calls from people expecting that our orchard has apples to pick. There is no arguing with ripening schedules, though, and most fruit picked too early never develops the flavors they could have. This is why eating a fresh picked, ripe piece of fruit is a totally different experience than eating most fruit found in the grocery store, and is what we want people to experience when they get fruit here. Our Liberty apples should be good by the time we open for picking. Meanwhile, we have picked all the Red Astrachan and Williams Pride apples. Williams Pride will be available for sale in our farmstand until they are gone. They are intensely flavored, sweet and juicy, with a deep red skin that tints the flesh. They store so much sugar that they often get what is known as hollow core - very ripe apples look waterlogged in the middle because there is too much sugar to stay inside the cells. This sugar gets reabsorbed by the apple if stored for a little while. We often have to pick the Williams Pride when some of our wildlife - deer or bears - discover them. They will spend every night eating all the apples they can reach until they are gone, and the foxes eat anything that hits the ground. It's an apple everyone loves.

We have sold most of the Reliance and Red Haven peaches, and have just picked the next variety, Contender, that we will be sorting for sale this weekend. This is the first year we have a significant crop from this variety, so they will be fun to try out.

Long wait for blossom

Due to cool temperatures, blossoms have taken an unprecedented length of time opening. Some varieties, like Williams Pride, golden russet, and the lower elevation Libertys had about half their blossoms open, but most of the trees will be at peak blossom this week. Luckily, this will coincide with ideal weather for pollinators - dry and warmer than it has been so we predict good fruit set this year. Certainly the trees have huge numbers of blossoms! We may have to spend a fair amount of time thinning…

We had snow this morning, but fruit trees can handle that kind of cold even with their blossoms open. The ample rain this spring is a welcome relief after the dry season last year.

A new season begins...

As farmers, hope springs eternal (if it doesn't, time to do something else!). So far this spring all signs point to a good year. Fruit buds are plentiful and healthy looking, no frost advisories on the horizon, so we remain hopeful for a good crop this year. We bought a new airblast sprayer, which should do a much better job than the pak tank with hand-spraying wand without crippling the operator. We are looking forward to producing high quality apples with this tool. Thanks goes to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, for helping us with this investment. They have truly made a difference to our viability as a business with their generosity.

Blossom season is just beginning, with one variety of plum blooming today. Soon the peaches will blossom, followed by waves of apples as each variety unfurls their petals. Steve got the new sprayer going just in time to spray sulfur on our scab-susceptible trees, and will follow with entomopathogenic nematodes to combat borers, apple maggot fly, and perhaps codling moth. These nematodes parasitize pest species larvae that are in the ground under the trees, or on/in the trunk, thereby reducing pest pressure for this and future seasons. May they live long and prosper, eating our pests!

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.

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).



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.

IMG_5080 (1)
King blossom


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.


Apple season is over once again

What a whirlwind of a season. We had a great pick your own season, with plenty of apples and nice weather every weekend. It was even warm for Cider Days weekend, when we offered seminars on organic orchard management, apple scouting, making vinegar, and natural fermenting. The New England hard cider was a hit, so we are fermenting more as we speak. We were crazy busy picking and pressing apples almost up to Thanksgiving, but finally we are done, fermenting tanks are all full, and the orchard is put to bed. We took full advantage of the long fall, with few very cold days - what a contrast to last year when we were downhill skiing the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This was another year when every tree in the orchard and woods, in yards, and along roads fruited with abandon, so we picked everything we could find room for. Likely next year many of those trees will be taking a rest to recover from their overabundance this year.

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