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When Three Springs expanded their farm acreage in 1985, a house was purchased for David Wenk's family. Included with the purchase was 42 bearing acres of 'Montmorency' sour cherries formerly belonging to the Musselman company. Two short years after, two harvesting machines were bought from a farmer in Michigan and we've been shaking things up ever since. Mechanically harvested cherries are processed at nearby Knouse Foods Cooperative and made into Lucky Leaf brand pie filling.
The same machines, seen here harvesting a new planting of sour cherries in 2009, travel on either side of the row of trees being harvested. David's machine, on the left as you view the tree, grips and shakes the tree. Banks of tarps catch the bouncing cherries and trickle them down toward the truck where John's machine (on the right) collects the cherries on conveyor belts. The cherries travel towards the operator onto a second conveyor which carries the fruit up and drops them into a steel tank of icy water.
video by Ryan E. Taylor
Choosing the Right Peach At Market
We're often asked how to choose good peaches at our farmers markets, so I thought I'd whip up an easy beginner's guide. Just remember, if all else fails, ask one of the experts helping at our stand that day! Before we address the task head on, let's address a few rules up front. N.B. This guide also applies to choosing nectarines, plums, apricots, and stone fruit in general.
General Rule #1 - Out of respect for our family who grew the fruit, our skilled crew who harvested the fruit in the heat of summer without bruising it, and the customers who will shop after you, please be gentle! As you'll see, a delicate squeeze is important in choosing good peaches, but tree ripened peaches are to be handled with the same caution as eggs.
General Rule #2 - Plan ahead! As you'll see, knowing the quantity of peaches you'd like and not only "how" but "when" you'll use them will go a long way to insure you'll enjoy the fruit we've worked so hard to grow.
Alrighty, let's choose some peaches! First things first, do you prefer white or yellow peaches? This always a point of contention - the factions are often fiercely divided. White peaches are "sub acid", meaning they will lack some of that peachy "bite". It's often believed that white peaches are sweeter while science tells us otherwise - the lack of acid makes the sugars stand out while the amount of sugar is often identical for yellow and white peaches. Yellow peaches are your traditional peach flavor, the white peaches taste like those same yellow peaches dipped in the sugar bowl. White peaches have a red background color while yellow peaches have a yellow background and a red blush. They should be clearly marked on our display to tell the difference - try 'em both and you can decided which is best for you!
When choosing peaches, ask yourself "how many do I want" and "do I want them now or later (or both)"? All of our peaches are picked ripe. Firm fruit is not "green" fruit or unmatured. Peaches must be picked "firm ripe" just to survive the short trip from our orchard to your farmers market. Our goal is to provide some peaches that are "finger ripe" (a little soft) and "firm ripe" in every crate so you can pick three peaches to eat today and a few that will ripen on your counter during the week. Very gently, hold a peach between your thumb and middle finger and apply just a tiny bit of pressure. If you can feel the flesh move, it's "finger ripe", eat today or tomorrow. Flesh still firm? Don't squeeze it any longer, first of all. Second, remember that it is "firm ripe", not "green" and it will come to life after as few as 2 days on the counter. If you know how many peaches you and your friends and family can eat in a week, plan accordingly by choosing a few "finger ripe" peaches for today and tomorrow and as many "firm ripe" as you believe you can eat between then and the next market when more fresh peaches come to town. Making a pie/cobbler/pudding etc? If you've got a head full of steam and are making it as soon as you get back, find a few finger ripe peaches. Many, my mother included, actually prefer firmer fruit for such confections so plan accordingly. Also remember, we do price in bulk so ask about the price for half bushel, and seconds for that matter.
Keeping/Ripening Your Peaches
Peaches are best kept at room temperature but are also not harmed by refrigeration. To make your peaches last all week, eat the softest first, place firm ones in the bottom of the fridge, and rotate "a day's worth of peaches" from the fridge to the counter each day you eat peaches. This way, tomorrow's fruit will ripen as you eat today, and the rest will be waiting for you in the refrigerator. Though it varies with peach varieties and weather conditions, peaches commonly last one week or longer in a refrigerator.
Can't Wait Any Longer? Fruit ripens in the presence of a gas called ethylene, found naturally in the fruit. A cool trick to quickly ripen your "firm ripe" peaches should you find yourself in need is to cut a piece of a high ethylene fruit; an apple or banana, and place it in a plastic bag with the peaches you wish to ripen, tie the bag shut at the top and place on the counter or in the fridge (depending on how dire the peach emergency is - don't panic, just place bag on counter). It won't take long at all using this method.
This is the second blog in the Growing Greener series - getting in depth with Three Springs Fruit Farm Growing Practices
Hello again, and welcome to another Growing Greener blog entry. In this series of blogs, I try to expand into a little detail on growing practices since we are asked so frequently about them. Despite what you might think, I'm glad to answer so many questions about them because if you didn't ask, you didn't care! And if you didn't care, you'd just buy your produce in the grocery store anyhow! Plus, if you stand behind the way your produce is grown as we do, why wouldn't you answer all the questions?
One thing I stress to customers who ask about our growing practices is "we don't spray unless we have to" and we spray "as little as possible". I can say this with such assurance because I personally go out of my way to see that it is true. The only way you can succeed in growing quality produce that is minimally sprayed is to know what's out there... or not out there, preferably. At Three Springs, this is accomplished with extensive pheromone trapping and monitoring.
Scattered strategically throughout 300 acres of orchards at Three Springs are 102 pheromone traps. These traps use the same synthetic pheromones that prevent mating in most blocks of tree fruit. Similarly, males twitch their noses and fly through our orchards at night in search of mating opportunities. Just when they think they've locked in on something and perch themselves to investigate further, their tiny moth legs are glued to the paper at the bottom of these traps (see pic). There the pests stay until I arrive weekly to count them and remove them from their sticky final resting places. These counts are recorded, tabulated, and compared to the documented biological life cycles of the pests, as recorded at the PSU Fruit Lab as well as the trap catches at our farm for previous years. This way, we can keep track of all the variables. When will this species hatch and how big that hatch be? In what parts of which orchards are populations highest? Where are we least susceptible to insect damage? Is this management strategy performing better than this one? How's the mating disruption holding up? We can come up with a pretty good idea what all of these answers might be just from the weekly trap counts, especially compared to our historical trap data and that provided by the PSU Fruit Lab. This information combined with observations made me, Dave, and John on disease incidence and populations of beneficials we've observed can provide us with the information needed to determine what action, if any, is best.
So, while growing tree fruits without spraying isn't feasible with the research we have currently, we can take all of these steps above and beyond to ensure that we are spraying as little as we can get away with! After all, it's not only our food too, it's our working environment we're talking about here! You can't farm for over 100 years without a healthy amount of sustainability in your operation.
- Growing Greener: Pheromone Mating Disruption
- Growing Greener: Low Toxicity Materials
- Growing Greener: Food Alliance Certification
- Growing Greener: Advanced IPM (video)
- Growing Greener: In Depth Food Alliance Standards
or more - Growing Practices, Food Safety, & IPM
Welcome to the first in a series of blogs concentrated on getting a little more "in depth" regarding the growing methods used at Three Springs Fruit Farm that make our fruit unique.
Many of our customers have heard me talk about Pheromone Mating Disruption in peaches and apples at Three Springs Fruit Farm. It is one of the biggest assets to our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in its ability to control harmful pests without our having to spray for them. If you haven't heard about this important pest management innovation, allow me to bring you up to speed.
Pests like Oriental Fruit Moth (OFM) and Codling Moth (CM) are a perennial problem in orchards. The larvae of these lepidopterans (moths) are what are best known as "worms" to consumers. These moths mate in and around our orchards and lay eggs on fruit and leaves. The resulting larvae emerge and find food and shelter in the fruit we'd spent so much time, effort, and money growing. We're not happy, you're not happy - we have to fix this problem!
While it would be easier (and cheaper, for that matter) to spray a broad-spectrum insecticide on a schedule and have the piece of mind knowing these insects could not be surviving, we take a greener approach. Between 100 and 150 days before the approximate harvest of our fruit, we take our crew out into every bearing block of apples and peaches and have them attach ties to our trees that are filled with artificial insect pheromone.
The pheromones (mating hormones) of these harmful species have been studied and recreated in laboratories. They've been synthesized and packaged in different dispensers (see pics) that release the female pheromone gradually and evenly over a period of approximately 100 days in most cases. So why go through with this? Wouldn't placing these in your orchards only encourage mating?
To the contrary, when these ties are placed in the orchard at the recommended rates, they confuse the males in the area. With each tie smelling exactly like an available female moth, the males in the area are overwhelmed, confused, and unable to find a female with which to mate. With only a few females being mated, fewer eggs are laid and fewer larvae are born in the orchard, keeping them out of our fruit!
Of course, it takes much more than the initial investment and the labor cost to make this practice effective. You must also be frequently monitoring the population of these insects through extensive scouting and trapping to be sure that the population of moths isn't so high that males are still finding mates in the disrupted blocks. Extensive scouting and monitoring are essential to any IPM program. Through our years of experience in mating disruption, we've also gotten better managing problems like border effects and applying disruption to match the geographical features of a block, prevailing winds etc. Research at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center has shown positive effects from each successive year in a mating disruption program, research that's been confirmed in our trapping data.
So, pheromone mating disruption is a lot like preventative maintanence in our orchard - if you can prevent the moths from mating, there will be nothing there to spray as we go through the season! What's more, when we're sleeping, at market, or trying to get away from work for a little while - the ties just keep on working without us having to look after them! And that's "the what it is", "how it works", and "why we like it" of pheromone mating disruption!
more Three Springs Growing Practices, or
It's no secret. The best apples you'll ever have will be eaten in season, picked just before their arrival at your favorite farmers market. While your appetite and enthusiasm for apples might not be as seasonal as the crop itself, don't worry! Research has led us to a great discovery in Post Harvest Technology that will maintain a respectable level of crispness nearly the whole year round! This crispness is achieved through Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage.
Controlled Atmosphere, or CA storage is used all over the country to improve the shelf life of fresh apples. Apples, as you know, can continue ripening after they're picked from the tree. They absorb oxygen through their lenticils (little dots on their skin) and release carbon dioxide as they convert their starches to sugars. "Natural Air" cold storages are kept at 33-35 degrees Fahrenheit with approximately the same atmosphere as the air we breathe. CA storages are kept at a similar temperature but the atmosphere is altered to remove all but 1 to 2 percent Oxygen when it would normally be 21%. This keeps the fruits from respirating and maintains crispness.
So if respiration is converting startches to sugars, maybe I want a sweeter apple? Let it go - don't mess with it! To the contrary, you want those sugars to be put there by the tree! When the apple loses starch, that's when you end up with those dreaded mushy, mealy apples that, much to our chagrin, commonly end up on grocery store shelves. The answer to this problem is simple (and you know it already): Buy Local! You may not always find Three Springs Fruit Farm apples in the cold winter months, but you can always find Eastern apples! I'm betting you'll taste the difference!
Some Historical Perspective
For your own amusement, below are a few pictures of how apples used to be stored before they were processed into juices and sauces. We have no dates for these photos, but our estimates would be the late 1930's and early 1940's.
The fruit would be picked into crates, stacked, and heaped up.
The fruit was piled up between the makeshift walls you see above.
Corn stalks were added as insulation. They would trap the cool evening air underneath and keep the apples cool... "back in the day"
And when you were done, this is what a cold storage looked like at the start of the 1940's!
And when you have all of the apples stored, you jump into your dandy automobile and head home for supper (as opposed to dinner). This picture added to give an indication of what year we're looking at.
Its with both trepidation and anticipation that I blog my first entry at our new website! Not only has the website come along nicely, but so also has a number of other things around the farm. Meanwhile, we're preparing to attend a few May markets for the first time and, in light of these things, I'm getting awfully nervous about this crop season... but then again, if things always went as planned, I wouldn't have chosen this dynamic, frustrating, unpredicatable line of work in the first place!
The good news - lots of new things happening around here! Specific to what you can expect to see at these early markets, we have lettuce, broccoli, and radishes we're gonna try to have early for all of you. These should be ready to plant out next week or the week after (more on this later). So that's good! Our first-ever batch of Three Springs Homemade Apple Sauce turned out very well! In a more broad sense, as you've likely noticed by now, the website, while not complete, has progressed to the point where it feels like "ours" now! That feels good too. We've also been busy planting with so much more to come - the 2009 half of our exciting, progressive sweet cherry planting is in the ground! We have plenty of new apple varieties (old apple varieties but new trees, in some cases), plus plenty more peaches and blueberries all on the docket for our spring planting schedule.
Which leads right into the trepidation! We certainly needed the rains over the weekend and we were fortunate enough to miss the nasty stuff. Now, if fortune could smile on us once more, we'd get the 10 days of sun required to take the edge off my worried mind in consideration of all those things above that we've yet to plant. Right now, the near future is pretty wet, so we'll have to play it by ear.
The countdown is ON! Here's when you can expect us where to start the season! The next time you hear from me, it'll be our first "Fresh From Our Farm" update of the season!
From Our Farm To Your Home,
OPENING DATES (see also, our calendar):
May 2nd - *brand new* Lutherville, MD Market! Corner of Joppa and Falls, 2:30 - 6pm
May 3rd - Headhouse
May 3rd - Greenbelt
May 6th - Wakefield Park
June 6th - Harbor East
June 9th - Kenilworth