A nursery in the Adams County, PA, fruit belt that started in the early 1900s is now seeing the fifth generation take the lead.
Founder W.W. Boyer first worked on the farm, then later purchased the original 110-acre property. The farm was originally home to cattle and an orchard, but Boyer’s primary interest was growing fruit.
“W.W. Boyer started his own tree nursery,” said Emma Fleming, fifth-generation co-owner. “He was propagating fruit trees, selling trees to other farmers and expanding his own orchards. That kicked off a commercial fruit tree nursery. His wife suggested selling rose bushes so farmers who visited the farm to purchase apple trees could take a rose bush home.”
Roses led to interest in other ornamental plants, and that aspect continued to grow over the years. “When my grandfather and great-grandmother were running the business, they expanded the garden center,” said Emma. “When my uncle, David Lower, came back from college to work in the business, he continued with an interest in plants and expanded the garden center to what it is today.”
These days, Emma and her two brothers, Andrew Lower and William Lower III, are the fifth generation entering the business. “My dad, William Lower Jr., is involved in production,” said Emma. “My brothers handle production and maintenance, and Dave handles the wholesale market duties and helps oversee the garden center and bare root stock. I do a lot of the administration work and help with the retail side and sales.”
The entire family works across all aspects of the business, which includes the orchard, retail nursery, garden center, wholesale fruit, landscape design, U-pick fruit and a tasting room which features a selection of wines and apple ciders.
Because conditions vary widely across an apple-growing region, and even within a particular orchard, it’s critical for orchardists growing new varieties to have current information from Cooperative Extension and from others who are growing the same varieties.
“Every location is different,” said Emma. “What works for one farmer may not work for another, even if they’re next to one another. It’s good there are a variety of rootstocks for different conditions.” She said their business provides variety recommendations to customers based on soil and site.
Since Boyer Nurseries and Orchards grows apples for both the fresh market and processing, different varieties are required throughout the season. “We have to figure out how many much acreage to dedicate for processing and whether that aligns with our labor,” said Emma. “We do our own wholesaling and have cold storage and a packing line so we can wholesale directly to customers, which keeps orchards in production. We also think about pick-your-own and the retail side, and what works best for those seasons.”
About 300 of the 500 acres in fruit production are dedicated to apples, with peaches a close second. Boyer’s also grows plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots, pears and small fruits.
“We carry a lot of patented varieties, including the Paul Friday peach series and the Stellar peach series,” said Emma. “We also work with International Plant Management in Michigan for patented apple varieties.”
She added that growers are interested in Honeycrisp with better coloring and quality, and the new Roseland Red™ Honeycrisp meets that criterion. A new Gala variety, RedRidge™ Gala, is currently in production.
New variety development requires many years of research by plant breeders and includes rootstock trials and other testing prior to release. “By the time the license is ready, it still takes more time to get it in to production and then sell the trees,” said Emma. “We’ve had a relationship with breeders for many years and they let us know when something new is released. We are also receiving new club variety releases.”
Emma explained that the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, which handles varieties such as Evercrisp®, uses royalties from growers to market apples, which improves consumer awareness of available varieties.
“For fresh apples, there’s only room for so many varieties,” she said. “New varieties are marketed to commercial growers and wholesale customers, and we’ll offer a select number.” As a grower, Boyer’s will report variety performance to the association.
Boyer’s grow some heirloom apples, including English cider varieties. Some newer plantings aren’t in production yet, but the family is looking forward to seeing how those perform. Boyer’s sends their own apples to a local mill to be pressed for both fresh and hard cider. Cold storage facilities are used to store apples until the end of winter, then the space is used for nursery stock.
Most of the ornamentals offered at Boyer’s retail nursery are sourced from local and regional nurseries, and some from Oregon nurseries. Emma said the West Coast climate is conducive to strong, healthy plants that perform well for customers. Regional suitability as well as customer requests play a role in what the nursery offers.
“There’s always new plant material coming out,” said Emma. “People see plants online or in catalogs, so we try to fulfill those requests. We like to carry higher-quality and larger material that’s landscape-ready compared to what customers can purchase at a big box store.”
When the family realized the retail garden center space wasn’t being used to its fullest capacity, they decided to make some major changes. “The building itself is sited perfectly,” said Emma, explaining the building’s transformation to a tasting room. “There was space in the original barn where we sell seasonal fruit, bare root trees and other items, so that’s where we moved the garden center supplies.”
The tasting room is now under the management of Rich and Kim Capozzi. Emma said the tasting room is drawing a new audience who are pleased to discover they can purchase plants and farm market items during their visit.
“Some people come for plants and discover the winery,” said Emma. “Others visit the winery and find out they can buy plants.”
A unique attraction undertaken by Dave is an evergreen hedge maze. Dave planted 700 Emerald Green Arborvitae in 2005 to create the hedge, which is styled after English-style labyrinths. “It’s open year-round,” said Emma. “This year a rock band shot a music video in it, and a film company shot some scenes for a movie.”
Boyer Nurseries and Orchards worked with the Land Conservancy of Adams County to preserve a portion of their acreage. “They’re helping us create a walking trail on the farm,” said Emma. “We’ll have signage to educate about the importance of land preservation, and volunteers from the Conservancy will be here to help.”
Of the year-round effort it takes to keep a busy nursery and orchard running smoothly, Emma said, “It’s a team effort with my family. We’re always looking for ways to improve.”
Visit Boyer Nurseries and Orchards at boyernurseries.com.
by Sally Colby