by Karl H. Kazaks
ARARAT, VA – As the summer apple season commences, Harry Harold reflected on the rhythm of life in the orchard.
“For each stage, you’re anxious to get started,” he said. “By the end of it, you’re glad it’s done.”
The Harold family has been growing fruit trees in this scenic, steeply sloped part of southern Virginia, where the Blue Ridge rises from the Virginia and North Carolina Piedmont, for about a century. That’s when Harry’s grandfather Martin Fulmer Harold first planted trees.
Today Harry runs the orchard with the assistance of his father, H.C. “Tom” Harold, who is in his late eighties and has been in the orchard business his entire life. Harry’s brother Billy also helps when he can. The family grows 55 acres of apples, 20 acres of peaches and some cherries.
The trees in the Harolds’ orchards are full-size. They like how the bigger trees are less susceptible to disease. Harry admits that if he were to replant, he would replant dwarf trees. But last year, for the first time, they decided not to replant trees.
“The orchard business isn’t what it used to be,” Harry said. “People used to buy more apples.”
“This country was full of orchards at one time,” Tom added. “It was a whole lot different than what it is now.”
Some of the changes have been quite beneficial. The orchard work, while more expensive, is easier. “I can spray in half a day what used to take a week,” Harry said.
He has mixed feelings about not replanting apple trees, as there are some new varieties he would like to grow. He is a true fan of apples. “I love all varieties,” he said. “I haven’t seen one yet I don’t like.”
The Harolds sell primarily to retail roadside stands – bulk bins of large apples. They get the large sized apples by thinning, and not just chemically.
“We hand thin everything,” Harry said. “We get fewer apples per tree but each apple is bigger.”
Even though not many people are starting orchards in this part of the world, Harry sees a “good potential” in the orcharding for the right person. “There’s a good business for local apples,” he said.
For more information, visit hcharoldorchard.com.