“Shh, the apples are sleeping…” is an iconic sign for those that pass by Bolton Orchards in Bolton, MA. It is painted on the front of the storage barn that houses the apples through the dormant season.

In early August, the storage barn is less than 10% full. They are getting ready for the new apples of the season, which starts in mid-August with their earliest apples, Red Free and Paula Red.

They have just enough apples to continue to sell them year-round at their Bolton Orchards farm store, which is open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. At the store they sell all that they produce: apples, peaches, cider, corn and tomatoes. With a full deli counter, they also sell sandwiches, ice cream and other specialty items.

The store’s prime location at the intersection of Routes 110 and 117 is the site of the original farm stand, opened by Jonathan Davis in 1945. In the late 1880s, the Davis family started out with a dairy in Sterling, called Davis Farm. In 1935, Jonathan bought the 200-acre peach orchard in Bolton that was called the Bolton Fruit Company and subsequently established the farm stand.

Joel O’Toole started working at the orchard while he was in college. Then he married the bosses’ daughter, third generation farmer Sarah Davis, in January 1999, and has been a mainstay ever since. In the winter months, he and the farm manager maintain the farm. Robert Davis, Sarah’s father, is still involved with the farm.

All told, the orchard planted with semi-dwarf trees produces about 20,000 bushels of apples annually.

Bolton Orchards sells their freshly made cider year-round, but people clamor for their signature cider, Golden Russet, which they sell only during the holiday season. “Sometimes we have it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes only for Thanksgiving. It’s crop-dependent,” Joel said. Made from Golden Delicious and Golden Russet apples, the amount produced depends solely on how well the crop did. They produce 20,000 gallons of cider a year.

Sarah O’Toole, the third generation at Bolton Orchards, poses in the farm store holding the first corn of the year. Photo by Laura Rodley

While they usually only offer the fruit, vegetables and cider mentioned above, along with other local products, this year they grew a lot of other vegetables to make up for the loss of their peach crop due to February’s arctic temperatures.

“Most of New England lost their peaches,” said Joel.

They have 11 acres planted in peaches in 15 to 20 varieties, and usually produce 5,000 to 6,000 bushels. Most years, their first peach of the season is the Rich May, which they usually start harvesting in early July. “It’s wonderful to start the season with Rich May,” said Joel, a big fan of the variety. Their other New England favorite is Red Harvest, ready mid-season.

They just started picking their own corn in early August to sell – an early variety called Extra Tender.

In this busy season, they have about 10 people working inside the store to serve their customers.

They predominantly hire Jamaican H-2A laborers to work in the orchard. “Some guys are here from mid-March until the end of November. It’s typically six workers. They aren’t here the whole time. There are three guys for the early part of the season, then during the harvest there are more,” Joel explained.

When asked how long the Jamaicans have been coming to work at the farm, he answered, “Longer than I have been here.”

The family has been busy revamping the orchard. Fifty acres are planted in apples. They took out a number of acres from production to rejuvenate the soil. They are working on a significant replanting on 12 acres of apples to increase efficiency, with an aim to increase the yield per acre.

They are mainly replanting the tried-and-true popular apples that their customers have come to rely on them for: Cortland, Macintosh, Honeycrisp, Mutzu and Macoun.

For more information, access boltonorchards.co.

by Laura Rodley