Thursday, November 7, 2013

St. Matthew's Visits Hildebrand Farms

On a chilly Friday October 23rd, students from St. Matthew's Catholic Secondary School headed north from Cornwall to visit Hildebrand Farms, a farm with a young orchard and berry farm. Bryan Hildebrand, the farmer, guided students on a tour of the farm, highlighting the business planning that goes into such a project.

In the two and a half acre (roughly one hectare) orchard, Bryan explained that it takes about five years for the trees to begin producing fruit, so it's important to use research and math to estimate the expected yields so that you can plan your business and cash flow. Bryan plans for an estimated five to ten percent of the trees dying off in the first few years of planting. While disease and insect pests pose a threat to trees, Hildebrand Farms also has to protect trees from hungry mice and deer. Plastic covers on each of the tree trunks are put in place each fall to prevent mice from destroying trees over the winter, and a solar powered electric fence protects the 600 trees from deer.

Bryan talks about orchard planning, pruning, and protecting trees from mice.
Students were surprised to learn that the plastic around the trunk of the tree prevents mice from damaging the orchard in the winter. "I feel sorry for the mice!" remarked some students – Bryan assured them that there are plenty of other things for the mice to eat on the farm, such as seeds and grasses!
Bryan talked about the need to prune the trees in the orchard, explaining that the trees often look like they have had a haircut. Keeping the tree pruned lets sunlight reach the fruit, and also makes it much easier to pick. Bryan also talked about the need to monitor tree health to address any issues early. For example, black knot requires removing the affected branch (or tree) and burning it.

Hildebrand Farms plans to have a pick-your-own option for raspberries and blueberries, providing a local organic option for families from Cornwall. Bryan explained they are also considering a pick-your-own option for the fruit trees, but that pick-your-own operations in orchards require a bit more supervision by the farmer in order to insure customers know how to pick the fruit without damaging the trees.
Bryan describes how black raspberries are cultivated, as well as how the canes (plants) flop over onto the soil and root.
Students learned about black raspberries, and were intrigued by the fact that when the raspberry canes grow tall enough, they flop over and root in the soil. 

One of the aspects Bryan highlighted was the degree to which he uses experimentation to expand the business. For example, the blueberries have done well, so they are now expanding that aspect of the farm. On the other hand, in a planting of 36 heartnut trees (students were intrigued to learn that this walnut relative is actually heart shaped!) only three have survived. Bryan explained that he will likely wait until the surviving trees are bigger, and propagate them, in the hopes that the surviving trees are better adapted to local conditions.

In the blueberry field, students took cuttings from the existing plants and helped prepare them for rooting in containers of sand. The completed containers will spend the winter in a cold storage facility (at about refrigerator temperature) and be planted in the spring to increase the size of the blueberry patch.

Students help propagate blueberries.
Students helped select cuttings from the blueberry patch and prepared them to root over the winter. With a little luck, in the spring the cuttings will have developed roots and be planted out in the blueberry field. 
Students left with some black raspberries, which they will transform into a healthy recipe with the help of a local dietician in a follow-up cooking workshop. This innovative part of Growing Up Organic's Farm-Gate Café helps students see the entire farm to plate cycle. For more information about Farm-Gate Cafés or to inquire about organizing one for your class in the spring, please contact the project coordinator or manager for your region. 

No comments:

Post a Comment