State’s only certified organic pick your own apple orchard now open

Lynda King

The apple orchard at Old Frog Pond Farm in Harvard has an outstanding crop this year, according to owner Linda Hoffman. The orchard is the only certified organic pick-your-own operation in the state, and has 15 to 18 different varieties of apples available, including Cortlands, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Macoun and Red Delicious, to name a few. Hoffman said the orchard also features a little-known variety called Blushing Gold, which is late to mature.

“It’s a great keeper,” said Hoffman. “You can have fresh apples at Thanksgiving.”

She said that the names of some of the other varieties may not be familiar to most people, because they’re new, disease-resistant cultivars.

Hoffman said this is the farm’s third year as a certified organic orchard, which also features pick-your-own raspberries. She said that maintaining the certification requires yearly inspection of the farm’s records, to make sure it is in compliance with regulations about what products and materials can be used in the orchard.

“You can only use materials that are approved,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t use other materials, but the burden is on you to prove to the certifier that those materials would meet the organic standards.” That can be a big challenge, she added, because most materials have inert ingredients, and “to get the manufacturer to divulge those ingredients can be difficult.”

Hoffman is committed to growing her crops organically, indeed, to an organic way of life. She said that when she moved into the farm, with its abandoned orchard, six years ago, she hadn’t given a thought to managing an orchard. But after she moved in, she said, she kept feeling as if there were a part of herself she was neglecting.

“The trees were there,” she said, “and they weren’t producing any fruit. In New England, and with this monoculture, there’s just no hope for apples. The diseases come in and really take over.”

She decided to reclaim the orchard, making a conscious decision to manage it organically. And that means not only using an “organic arsenal” to combat the pests and diseases that try to lay claim on the crop each year, but also being vigilant about maintaining the health of the soil. She said she does a lot of mulching around the trees, and twice during the growing season adds “giant rings of aged horse manure from a local farm around each tree, about 8 inches deep.”

“Feeding that orchard is no different from feeding my kids,” she said.

But Hoffman said that “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “sustainable,” and she is committed to the sustainability of her orchard, of her land. As an example, she said, organic standards say she can use sulphur — even lime sulphur — on the orchard, as often as necessary.