Apple orchards aren't limited to BC and other warmer climates! Although less common in Alberta, perhaps the rarity of large-scale apple orchards in Alberta makes Attracted 2 Apples even more "attractive" to visit. I have walked down the long rows both during the peak time for blossoms in May as well as when the apple trees were loaded with a bumper crop of apples in late August/early September 2 years ago. My kids were easily entertained by running around under the spreading trees to help clean up the fallen apples on the ground. We taste-tested the different varieties and tried to find a favorite, each coming up with a different top pick.
I realize that apple-picking season seems like a long time away right now, but the apple blossoms will open up soon, and we'll be hoping for good weather for the fruit to set. As Frank explains below, apple farming in Alberta is definitely challenging in our climate; every year is different, but that keeps it interesting for sure!
Laura: What is the nature of your farm and how did you get started?
Frank: I wanted to have a farm of my own from a young age. Much of my youth was spent on my father’s hobby farm, riding horses, branding cattle, looking after bees, and raising trout. I always wanted to start a small scale farming type operation but I did not know what it would be. I am the kind of person that needs activity and I wanted something that would keep me busy in my retirement. The question was ... what type of farming operation would it be? My sister dragged me out to a strawberry U-pick and I was surprised at the quality of the product and how much fun U-picks were. I decided that the Edmonton area needed an apple U-pick so I bought land just outside of the city; that was back in 2004. I now specialize in growing U-pick apples.
Laura: What have you learned about growing apples ‘large scale’ in Alberta since starting Attracted 2 Apples? Anything surprising/positive/challenging/unexpected?
Frank: The biggest surprise is the difference between growing apples in the city and outside the city. In the city I get a reliable crop every year and the trees seem immune from winter cold injuries. At the farm cold spring weather periodically damages the blossoms limiting the crop I can grow.
Laura: How do you incorporate natural farming practices in your orchard?
Frank: Prior to planting any trees I obtained a copy of the organic standard for growing fruit in Canada. Following the standard is straight forward since it fits well with my core believes and it has been the way I have done things from day one. Being pesticide free is easy since I do not have any insect pests that bother the trees or fruit; avoiding chemical fertilizers is easy since my soil is highly fertile. The weeds are a bit of an issue though and learning how to deal with them using tillage has been a learning curve. Thinning the apples is done manually, which is highly labour intensive (normally this is done with a chemical in non-organic orchards) , ~ 85% of the apples need to be removed. I have relied on volunteer labour to assist with thinning.
Laura: What do you want to tell people about the benefits of supporting local/experiencing the apples grown in your orchard?
Frank: We are all drawn to the country. There is something magical, peaceful, serine about wandering up and down long rows of trees: the quietness. The side benefit is being able to try out lots of new varieties of apples, tasting the flavor of tree ripened apples, getting a chemical free product. From a long-term planet-sustainability point of view, obtaining more of our food locally makes sense.
Laura: What tips do you have for people in order to have the best u-pick experience at your farm?
Frank: Dress for the weather. If it feels warm in the city, it will feel warmer on the farm; if it feels cool in the city, it will feel colder on the farm.
Laura: If people are interested, can they visit your orchard or be involved in the cleaning up/thinning of apples earlier in the summer?
Frank: We are always looking for help thinning apples near the end of June. It is a good excuse to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. In the fall some years we are looking for people to help pick apples.
Laura: If people want to learn more about growing fruit in Alberta do you have a good resource/recommendation for how they could learn?
Frank: The facebook group “Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta” is interactive and is a great source of information. Also google “DBG Fruit Growers Group”.
Laura: How can people best keep up with current events and news from Attracted 2 Apples or contact you?
Frank: We have a website attracted2apples.com that is the main source of information. There is also a couple of email lists, the “Apple ripe notification email list” (one email each year sent as soon as opening date for the year has been confirmed). There is also an orchard helper list that lets you know about volunteer opportunities. To get on the email list of your choice, send an email to email@example.com.
Also part of the Local County website.