At Almar Orchards we get a LOT of questions. So we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions that we receive. If your question isn’t answered here, feel free to contact us.
The farm is 300 acres, with 150 acres planted in apple trees, a multitude of farm buildings. Plus several acres of pastures for our Birkshire black pigs.
Apples that don’t make the grade for eating or cooking are first turned into our Fresh Organic Cider. Available from the point when we have a good blend of apples at the start of The Season until the frozen cider runs out the following year, our organic, unfiltered, pure apple cider is second to none.
We grow over 50 varieties of apples, but only sell the best quality eating and cooking apples in the store. The other varieties are used in our fresh and hard cider operation. Nationally, over 2500 varieties are grown, but only 100 varieties are grown commercially. Worldwide over 7500 varieties are gown.
Weather plays a major factor in when a variety is ready, and each variety has its own internal clock. Once the apples are close to picking, JK checks them for flavor before the picking crew is sent out to harvest that part of the crop. In general, early varieties are ready in late August, and some of the later varieties may be picked in early November.
If a variety doesn’t have a good flavor or texture, JK won’t sell it in the store. And a lot of the more generally popular varieties, like Red Delicious, are available everywhere, but you won’t find a Rubinola or a Topaz in the big box stores. We have limited space in the store, so we try to offer the the best tasting and the most unique varieties.
One of the principles of organic growing is to select varieties which are disease and insect resistant, as well as able to cope with the local climate (and now climate change). Versatility is also important, as different apples are best suited to different uses. Finally, some older varieties have only a limited popularity, and don’t meet the other criteria, and if the trees are too old to be productive, it makes more business sense to plant a stronger, more versatile and more popular variety.
Traditionally, Northern Spy is considered a cooking apple and the Honeycrisp is an eating apple. However, many people turn that around, and eat the Spy and cook with the Honeycrisp. The bottom line is, everyone has a different opinion! However, we do suggest using two or three varieties when cooking, for a more complex flavor and better texture, and of course you can have a taste of the apples we have available.
Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp and Cameo are some of the more popular juicing apples, but again, any apple can be used depending on your taste preferences. The nice thing about organic apples is that you don’t have to peel them first, although we do recommend washing them.
There are a lot of clues you can use to determine a trees variety, but remember there are over 2500 varieties grown in the US! Things to consider are where you live, age of the tree, when it blooms, when the apples are ripe, color of the blossoms, color of leaves and bark, susceptibility to certain diseases or insects, pattern of the apple core, and of course color, shape, texture and taste of the apples. The Orange Pippin website has an Apple identifier (http://www.applename.com) that may help.
We have offered trees for sale in limited amounts, but we aren’t really set up as a nursery – check Facebook in the spring to see if we’re selling trees and the varieties available. When we need to buy trees we use Adams County Nursery (https://www.acnursery.com), and they have a selection of traditional and scab resistant varieties.
If you are new to growing apple trees, we recommend selecting varieties that are relatively trouble-free, so you will need to do your research. Also, most varieties are not self-fertile, which means you need to grow at least two varieties, and they should be varieties that bloom around the same time.
How you prune a tree depends on a lot of factors including variety, age, condition, and pruning form (central leader, open vase, espalier). Some general tips: 1 – There is no one correct way to prune a tree. 2 – Pruning in winter allows you to better see the shape of the tree. 3 – Remove no more than 20% of the tree in one year. 4 – Start with diseased or damaged limbs, and branches that cross and may rub. 5 – Remember that you can always take off more later, and if you cut a bit too much, there’ll be more growth next year.
We use a product called Surround – a kaolin clay product that makes the fruit too slippery for the bugs to get a good grip. The light clay helps to keep the trees a bit cooler in the hot summer sun, and when it rains, the clay returns to the earth improving the soil.
Originally they were a method of managing pests and disease in the orchard. We started with Berkshires, but moved to Devon Blacks – and it looks like there was a bit of crossing along the way. The pigs rooted around under the trees eating fallen apples and disrupting the top soil, and of course dropping a bit of fertilizer along the way. Unfortunately, the pigs prefer the orchard to their pens or the barn, and bringing them in when necessary was a bit of a problem. But, they still serve as garbage disposals for the apple pulp from our cider mill, and for any apples that aren’t good enough to run through the cider mill.
When JK’s father retired, he needed a hobby, and reindeer became his new passion. At one point there were over 30 deer, many were tame enough to take to schools and other events, and Santa hired several regularly to accompany him on his travels in Michigan. After his passing the herd has been diminished.
The apple maggot likes to lay eggs in apples, but fortunately we can fool them into landing on red Solo cups coated with Tanglefoot. The bugs get stuck and the apples stay safe. We monitor the bugs trapped on the cups, and can adjust our pest management strategy as needed.
Researching the possible side effects of the conventional chemicals used in agriculture while raising his young family, JK decided that the potential risk to his children was too great. So, Jim Koan became a pioneer in the raising of organic apples, and now has one of the largest, and most successful organic orchards in the country.
There are several reasons why organic is more expensive than conventional. First, organic practices are more labor intensive because there’s less reliance on chemicals, and the organic products that are used are more expensive. Secondly, organic certification requires more paperwork and the additional cost of certification. Third, conventional farming receives more in subsidies than organic farming. Finally, mass-production reduces costs, but organic products are typically produced on a smaller scale, usually on small family farms, like Almar Orchards.
Food can be raised using organic principles, without certification. Certification requires additional paperwork and the additional cost of certification with an organic certification board. Our pork is raised using organic principles, and is prepared in an organic meat processing facility, but it is not certified by a certification company.
Scrumpy is a old fashioned, generic term for “rough” farmhouse hard cider made from a multitude of apple varieties. We keep the “farmhouse”, but we lose the “rough” because we use a select blend of apple varieties for each batch we brew.
The word Scrumpy comes to us from the west of England, where Scrumpy has been produced for hundreds of years. There are several possible origins of the name. One is the word “scrump” meaning something withered or dried, specifically apples. This doesn’t work for us, because those apples go into our pigs, not into our ciders. The second possible origin comes from the word “scrimp” which means to steal fruit – this term is a bit more appealing to us (no pun intended) because hard cider helped save the farm during Prohibition and the Great Depression.
Today the term Scrumpy is more often used to describe locally made, handcrafted ciders produced in smaller quantities using traditional methods. Our hard ciders are certainly not mass-produced, and our apples come from happy orchards, delighted that their fruit goes into such tasty Scrumpy…
And technically, as a fermented fruit drink, scrumpy is a wine, not a beer…
In the mid-Michigan area, you can always come out to the farm where we have our standard flavors, as well as a number of limited releases on tap. Elsewhere in Michigan, check out our Partners (coming soon) list and our cider finder (coming soon). In the rest of the country, our distributor JKFarmhouse Cider (JKSFarmhouseCiders.com) has their own cider finder. And you can always contact us (email link) at the farm.
In the Flushing area, come on out to the farm or check out our Partners (coming soon) page – depending on the season we have apples and cider in a number of stores and co-ops in mid- and lower Michigan. If you are looking for a particular variety, and especially if you’re traveling a distance, do give us a call at the farm to make sure we have what you’re looking for.
In 2017 government overreach forced us to decide to stop selling raw cider. The USDA is changing food safety laws which will once again impact our operation. The new requirements address farms that want to offer raw products and also raise animals in the vicinity of the processing equipment. The government is now pushing for all cider from farms that have animals to be heat treated, because of the perceived risk of cider contamination.
Researching the possible side effects of conventional chemicals used in agriculture while raising his young family, JK decided that the potential risk to his children was too great. So, Jim Koan became a pioneer in the raising of organic apples, and now has one of the largest, and most successful organic orchards in the country.