April 2012

Although it was a windy, chilly day, it was a treat to visit various orchard plantings at both Ridgetop and Boyer Orchards. Both families have been on the forefront of integrating high density plantings into their business model. Their experiences allowed them to share valuable knowledge about what works and what doesn't, when it comes to setting up trellised plantings.

In the photo on the right, the group learns about the importance of using sufficiently tall support posts. Below, Sam explains their unique trellis wiring. For a detailed account of the tour, see JaJa Prozo's article, written for PA Fruit News, below.

Young Growers Tour Scenic Bedford County Orchards

 by Sladjana Prozo, Penn State Ag Innovations Program Manager

The Young Grower Alliance (YGA) held their first orchard tour this season in scenic Bedford County visiting Ridgetop and Boyer's Orchards. With over 30 young growers attending, the Boyer family opened up their orchards to show their success, struggles and innovations developed over generations of fruit growing. Nestled on top of Chestnut Ridge, Ridgetop Orchard and Boyer's Orchard sit at a 1200 to 1800 ft elevation with a 4 to 6 degree difference throughout the orchards, an Elliber soil with a unique water holding capacity, no irrigation and large hills as far as the eye can see.

The tour began at Ridgetop Orchard which grows 400 acres of apples and peaches mainly for packing and pick-your-own cherries. Dan, Lois, Seth and Mark Boyer showed off their various blocks of high-density Honeycrisp, Gala, Red Delicious and Penn State Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) plantings. Their Honeycrisp/M.9 are planted at 4x14 growing 9 ½ to 10 ft tall. Mark explained that although Red Delicious will reach 1000 bushel/acre this is not a goal of theirs for Honeycrisp due to the observation that bitter pit is avoided with careful crop load management. Young Growers learned about the importance of supporting trees top to bottom in a high density orchard where tops of trees often flop over or get broken, an issue Justin Weaver of Weaver's Orchards said he has had to deal with. Although high yields are a goal of high density plantings it is quality over quantity that is of importance for Ridgetop Orchard. Gala is a particularly strong apple at Ridgetop with some planted at 3x14 with a top 9 to 10 ½ ft wire. Dad, Dan Boyer, mentioned an older Honeycrisp/26 planting at 3x12 which he says taught him that "3 feet is too tight to get adequate color on Honeycrisp," although son Seth says he would consider "3x12 if [he] had irrigation." Several years ago, cicada taught them about the importance of supporting trees. This is one aspect Young Growers learned about while seeing the Penn State CIG block at Ridgetop which is one acre of high density trellised Cameo and Honeycrisp planted at 4x14 with a 9 ft top wire. Dr. Rob Crassweller, Professor of Tree Fruit at Penn State, explained the various ways to train trellised trees to optimize sunlight interception and how effective a dutch cut can be for lateral growth. Before heading over to neighboring Boyer's Orchard, Young Growers saw the 18 acre planting of pick-your-own cherries which is "like a hobby" for Dan Boyer who mentioned that Jubileum was their most popular variety.

Young Growers enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Boyer's Retail Market where conversation led to the new information available on calibrating sprayers and the importance of not depending on the face value of pressure gauges. Many growers chimed in from experience after learning the same thing at the Extension Winter Tree Fruit Meeting. With only a few hours to go Young Growers headed to see the operations at Boyer's Orchard. Many thanks to Ellen and Janet for the delicious barbecue lunch!

Boyer's was turned into a partnership LLC in 1989 when Bruce and Matt Boyer decided it was time to plan ahead and prepare for the next generation of growers, their sons Wes, Sam and Ben. They grow close to 300 acres of apples, pears and peaches with the majority going to packing at Hess Brother's in Lancaster and the remaining sold at their retail store in Bedford County. The Boyer's land used to be loaded with American chestnuts but is now all planted with fruit trees, gradually transitioning to high density, high wire, conduit plantings. Matt's son Sam showed the YGA group around the various plantings of Mac, Gala, Honeycrisp, Red Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, and Cortland in a particularly interesting plot planted using a 'NY Method.' While the majority of the orchard is staked with steel, fiberglass, or conduit, it is this NY Method that they would like to see their orchards transition to. This trellis method has high tensile wires at 1 ½ ft and 9 ft, and a vertical 12 ½" gauge wire at each tree for leader support. The Boyer's have planted Scarlett Spur and Red Delicious in this manner. While many NY State high density growers use this method it is still uncommon to see in PA orchards. Young Growers were intrigued to see this method implemented, especially after seeing the other ways Ridgetop and Boyer's support their trees. Sam Boyer mentioned through their ups and downs of figuring how to best support trees "you can't afford to do it right the first time, but you can the second time," and hopes the NY Method will be effective. Most new plantings at Boyer's are going in at 4x14 with older plantings at 16, 18, and 20 feet and even a few dense three row experiments where there were simply too many trees, not enough land. Their Bartlett pears have not fared well due to Fire Blight last year but the Boyer's seem optimistic about the upcoming season.

Young Growers on this tour really got to see the dynamics of multiple generations on an orchard. With Dan, Matt and Bruce showing how things have been done to sons/cousins Seth, Mark, Wes, Sam and Ben never missing a beat to explain the progressions the orchards have taken and will continue to take. Catherine Lara, YGA Coordinator, commented that "Both families shared a tremendous amount of knowledge on how to effectively implement high density plantings. Learning from the trials and triumphs of other growers is what makes YGA tours a success. YGA members understand the value of learning, not only from one another, but also from other growers. That's why several tours like this one are planned each season."

On behalf of all YGA members, another THANK YOU to the extended Boyer family for hosting a wonderful tour, delicious breakfast and lunch and sharing priceless information and experiences with young growers.

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Donald Seifrit
  • Extension Educator, Tree Fruit