Residents who drive along Center Road these days might notice bare fruit trees lining the hills — and farm workers with shears and rakes.
This is the time of year that Silverman’s Farm does its winter pruning and clean-up of its apple and peach trees in the orchard. And given that there are 15,000 trees that need attention, it takes all winter.
Trimming the trees is a necessary chore for three reasons, according to Irv Silverman, owner of Silverman’s Farm.
“Number one, it lets in sunlight,” Mr. Silverman said.
Second, it keeps air movement.
“So the trees don’t stay damp after rains,” Mr. Silverman said.
Third, it prevents overgrowth of the vegetation, or brush, which can cause too much shade inside the trees.
“You only get fruit on outer branches [with overgrowth],” Mr. Silverman said.
And, of course, after all that trimming they need to clean up the debris that then lines the ground.
“There are hundreds of thousands of branches [cut off],” Mr. Silverman said.
But Mr. Silverman is old hat at the chore, having spent his whole life living and farming in Easton. First when Silverman’s Farm was his Dad, Benjamin’s, farm — founded in the 1920s — and later when he took over in the 1960s.
“Fruit trees need to be pruned every year,” Mr. Silverman said.
Spring is coming
Soon, there will be a new batch of chores to be done at the farm as the fruit trees start to blossom.
In winter, older trees are removed to make way for new plants that go in around the end of March or sometime in April.
Mr. Silverman replaces up to 10% of his trees each year.
“We’re always adding new varieties,” he said.
Apple trees last about 20 years, peach trees last about 15 years, according to Mr. Silverman.
In addition to age, weather events sometimes take out trees.
“We’re always replacing from storm damage,” Mr. Silverman said.
He said they were lucky with Hurricane Sandy in late October last year.
“It wasn’t bad,” Mr. Silverman said.
When the storm hit, the apples were already off the trees. So there was minimal damage to his crop since there was not the weight and density of trees laden with apples.
It would have been a different story earlier in the season when apples still clung to the branches of the trees at Silverman’s Farm.
“If [the storm had hit] in early October, there would have been real problems,” Mr. Silverman said.
But, as it happened, his crop continues as it typically does.
“Over 15 to 20 years, the whole farm is completely replaced,” he said.
Spring is also the time when they fertilize the soil at the orchard to help replace the nutrients that the trees use up constantly producing fruit.
Here comes the fruit
Once the blossoms open and the beginnings of fruit appears — typically around late April — honeybees are brought in to pollinate the trees.
Mr. Silverman rents about 30 hives for two weeks each year to pollinate his apple and peach trees.
“Peaches don’t need as much help as apples,” Mr. Silverman said.
As with everything on a farm, the weather plays a large role. The honeybees won’t be brought in until the trees are in full blossom, the timing of which varies depending on the weather.
“When the blossom is fully opened… it is easiest for bees to pollinate,” Mr. Silverman said.
Last year, some apple and peach blossoms never fully pollinated, due to early warm weather in mid-April — when some blossoms opened — followed by a frost in late April.
The late season fruits — the blossoms of which stayed closed the tightest and were consequently the most protected during the early warm weather and subsequent freeze — were the most successful last year.
Next comes hand thinning.
In late May or early June for peaches, and June for apples, the farm workers hand thin the beginnings of fruit on the trees.
The fruit on the trees is about the size of grapes at this point and forms in bunches on the buds on the branches.
“Fruit will grow in small bunches, three to five [bunches] on a bud,” Mr. Silverman said. There can be several buds on a branch.
The workers thin the fruit bunches down to one to two per bud. Otherwise, fruit will grow into small multiple bunches instead of full-grown apples and peaches.
“Some farms use chemicals to thin,” Mr. Silverman said. “We don’t.”
Full-grown peaches will make an appearance before full-grown apples, ripening around the fourth of July in typical weather.
They are usually in season until the first week of September. Silverman’s Farm has about 12 varieties of peaches, each with about a two-week window.
Apples become available at the beginning of August and are available for pick-your-own until the end of October.
Silverman’s Farm grows about 20 varieties of apples. Like the peaches, each apple type also has about a two-week window.
Apples, however, can be put into cold storage and sold all through winter, losing just a bit of what Mr. Silverman calls “snappiness.”
A couple of years ago, Mr. Silverman planted grapes for the first time. They have about 1,000 grape vines now.
“This summer, they will be ready,” he said.
There should be table grapes available at Silverman’s farm market this summer.
Another new addition is blueberry bushes. The farm has about 2,000 bushes. In summer 2013, blueberries will be available in the farm market, and in summer 2014, the farm should have pick-your-own.
The farm market is open
There’s no reason to wait until summer to get some local flavor or a gift, though.
The farm market at Silverman’s is open year-round. Right now, they have apples from their storage, pies, the florist, jams and jellies and “country gifts.”
“It’s a good place to go,” Mr. Silverman said. “We have all prices for gifts, without having to go to a big box store.”
The farm market is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week.
Silverman’s farm has been in Easton for nearly a hundred years. When Mr. Silverman took over from his dad over half a century ago, he made two big changes.
First, he switched from a vegetable and fruit farm to all fruit. Second, he transformed the farm into an agri-tourism destination. A place where children can learn about farming.
“Kids today don’t see farms,” Mr. Silverman said. “They think apples grow at Stop N Shop.”
Another thing children might not see these days is all the work that goes into growing the fruit. The work that takes place when there are no tourists lining up for rides up into the orchard to pick the fruits of Mr. Silverman’s labors.
“It takes a whole year to run an orchard,” Mr. Silverman said.
For more information on Silverman’s Farm, visit silvermansfarm.com.