by Dale Bliss
“Eat an apple on going to bed, and keep the doctor from earning his bread” (in its original form) was a phrase in Carol Taggart’s book “An Apple a Day: Old Proverbs and Why They Still Work” in Pembroke, Wales, in the 1860s.
This phrase may have truth in it. In 2011, studies from Ohio State University found that apples can actually help reduce bad cholesterol in the middle-aged set. A Dutch study shows that both apples and pears can help reduce strokes.
In 1974, John Brownfield began growing organic apples and pears at his current location. “We were the first orchard to be certified organic by Washington State in 1987,” said Lindsey Greenway, the granddaughter of Brownfield. She works as the field horticulturist, human resource specialist and takes care of social media. His son, Mike Brownfield, has been the organic orchard’s general manager since 1990.
The four-generation family apple farm has 55 acres of organically growing fruit. With approximately 43 acres of apples, six of cherries, four of pears and two of peaches and apricots, “growing apples is a family tradition,” Mike humbly explained. The orchard includes 38,000 apples trees with a sum of 43,500 fruit trees.
As a young boy growing up, Mike lived in Floyd and Myrtle Brownfield’s farmhouse (his grandparents), surrounded by his family’s apple orchard. He helped his father in the orchards by moving sprinkler lines and raking tree trimmings. “I’ve always had an interest in continuing the family business. I enjoy the seasonal lifestyle and the challenge of learning the variety of skills required to be a small farmer,” Mike said.
Brownfield Orchard grows 10 varieties of apples: Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp, Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Ambrosia, Gingergold and September Fuji. Mike explained, “We feel the eating quality of these varieties is very good and they cover a range of harvest timings so that we always have several fruits available to our customers.” The varieties have proven themselves through the reception of their customers.
The orchard, located in Chelan, WA, was made up of Red and Golden Delicious originally. But in 1984, John felt it was time for a change. He decided to plant the orchard’s inaugural Gala trees. “Galas have much more flavor than the ‘Delicious’ apples,” Mike said. Due to the newness and being organic, this variety brought the highest price the farm had seen to that date. In 2004, the Honeycrisp was introduced to the orchard. They have become popular with customers because of their unique texture and taste.
Shallow cultivation is used for weed control. This practice is used in proximity of the tree trunks. The main tool is the Wonder Weeder. “It is used in combination with mowing the drive alley, so we’re able to do two jobs in one tractor pass,” explained Mike. “It works well at 4 to 5 mph, which is pretty fast for orchard tractor work.” For plantings three years old or older this is “most effective.” The shear bar is not used and in young plantings a supplement is needed, such as weeding by hand and organic sprays for weed control.
“We establish a legume cover crop in the drive alleys whenever we replant or graft a block,” explained Mike. Planting is done in August, if possible. The balance of seed is two-thirds alfalfa and one-third white Dutch clover. This clover is low growing. He said he likes to grow his cover crop when tree canopies are young. Alfalfa and clover plants flourish when visible to sunlight.
Their mower discharges from the sides and gives off nitrogen-rich legume trimmings to the tree rows for some mulching. The legumes progressively “thin out” until the native grasses take charge after several years. Older trees do not need as much nitrogen so this process works well.
Chicken and wood chip compost is their principal fertilizer. “We apply one to three tons per acre each spring,” Mike said. Gypsum and other minerals were once used for giving more balance to the sandy loam soil. Liquid fish fertilizer is used sometimes along with organic calcium for calcium deficient varieties such as Honeycrisp. Many times during the season solutions containing nutrients are sprayed on the trees. During bud breaks, liquid fish fertilizer, seaweed, calcium and micronutrients like boron and zinc are given as applications. During summer, foliar calcium is used.