A visit to Bennett Orchards and Adams County Nursery in Delaware highlights the importance of fruit quality and the unexpected benefits that efficiency can produce.

Bennett Orchards Pick Your Own Blueberries

Bennett Orchards Pick Your Own Blueberries

By Rebecca Lee, Penn State Extension Program Assistant

On a hot and humid Thursday in June, members of the Young Grower Alliance (YGA) came from across Pennsylvania and surrounding states to tour two horticultural operations in Southern Delaware. The tour was coordinated by Ryan Callahan, YGA tour team member, and Don Seifrit, Penn State Extension Tree Fruit Educator.

YGA members in the field visiting Bennett Orchards.The morning started off at Bennett Orchards where Hail Bennett gave the tour of their operation. The farm site is ideal for peach, nectarine, and blueberry production. They believe they have found a niche market, being only eight miles from the beach. While they sell at their retail market and to wholesale buyers, pick-your-own sales are the largest portion of their marketing effort. During the pick-your-own season they see as many as 500 vehicles in a day. They market their produce as Bennett peaches, Bennett nectarines, and Bennett blueberries to really push their brand.

The Bennett family focuses on the quality of their produce over the quantity. They tree-ripen their peaches, which can be risky, but they believe the improved quality is worth the risk. Bennett's Orchard does not have refrigeration for their peaches, which is also risky, but they only harvest their peaches at peak quality, when they are one to two days from being soft. For their blueberries, they have a cool room that they keep at 55 degrees. This helps to keep the blueberries from sweating when they take them to market. They refrain from opening their pick-your-own section unless the fruit are ripe, ready to pick, and plentiful to keep--once again their dedication to quality. Hail stressed the importance of their belief of quality over quantity.
Adams County Nursery Saplings

After lunch the tour group headed to Adams County Nursery. The Southern
Delaware operation of Adams County Nursery is the main location for growing apple and peach trees, which are sold as bare-rooted nursery stock. Peach rootstocks are grown from seed, and apples, plums, apricots and cherries are grown from clonally propagated liners. Trees are budded to the desired cultivars in July and August. They can potentially obtain a 90-95% bud stand, but that is not always the case. On the one field they counted recently, they had 126 varieties with an 84% bud stand. Both weather and bud wood quality can limit tree propagation success. The Southern Delaware operation is an ideal site for growing nursery stock because the soil is sandy, which makes it easier to manage tree vigor.

Mobile work platform with shade canopyAdams County Nursery constantly strives to be more efficient and worker friendly. They have moved their irrigation from center pivot to trickle irrigation. Their irrigation system is split into multiple field zones to maximize the efficiency of water output per minute. They can control the system online which gives them the ability to turn it on or off remotely, e.g., from the office couch. They also recently purchased a mobile work platform for their rows of nursery stock. Workers can be under the shade as the machine moves them down the rows to perform various tasks. Nursery manager, Shaun Callahan, commented that bringing in the platform inadvertently brought their production levels up. Workers wanted to race with the machine to prove that they could work faster than the people riding on the platform.
We would like to thank both Bennett Orchards and Adams County Nursery for hosting this tour for young specialty crop growers. For further information on the Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance, please visit our "About Us" page or contact .
(Photos by Don Seifrit)

Contact us

Donald Seifrit
  • Extension Educator, Tree Fruit