In my fourth blog post this year I am interviewing Clint Wostrel of Union Orchard. Clint’s family purchased Union Orchard and he is working under the mentorship of Vaughn Hammond. Clint took the Farm Beginnings class last year and is now learning about running the orchard. Following this interview we will have a photo blog of the orchard.
Union Orchard was formerly owned by the University of Nebraska. In 1917 the University of Nebraska purchased 80 acres and developed the University Fruit Farm, which was a demonstration fruit farm that was in operation for 45 years. In 1961 it was sold to the Lechner Family and became Lechner Family Union Orchard. In 2011 it was purchased by Terry and Carla Wostrel and is now being developed into Union Orchard.
The Wostrel Family began farming in Nebraska in 1875 and they hope to continue this tradition with Union Orchard which is located right off of Highway 75 just north of Nebraska City with easy access from both the urban centers of Omaha and Lincoln.
The four photos above illustrate the wide range of products Union Orchard is marketing in their store located on site at the orchard. They sell a variety of canned products, jellies and jams, plus all kinds of baked goods, treats and beverages at the snack bar. The orchard also offers wine tasting for visitors.
When the Wostrel family purchased the orchard they knew they would need to essentially replace all the apple trees. Above are some of the trees they have replaced over the past 3-4 years. Notice the Mason Bee Domicile (home) in the center of the photo. This is to attract solitary bees to help with pollination of the apples. Union Orchard also uses Coddling Moth Traps to monitor Coddling Moth movement in the orchard. Union Orchard utilizes this IPM ( Integrated Pest Management) tool and other sustainable practices whenever they can in their operation.
Union Orchard plants mostly dwarf trees which start bearing in 2-3 years. Notice the apples on this year’s trees. They were fortunate to avoid a frost this spring which could have severely reduced their apple crop for 2016. Union Orchard plants several varieties of apples and offers a You-Pick operation for people interested in picking their own apples.
Union Orchard has Gazebos at strategic locations on the orchard for pickers to relax and rest while they are picking various types of produce.
In early June, Union Orchard opened up for You-Pick Strawberries. From the photos above you can see they have a large patch of strawberries which have excellent fruit on them. I can attest to that, as I purchased a large quantity of berries on my visit last week and have been enjoying them ever since. Just eating them alone or on cereal or ice cream is a treat. They have a Strawberry Festival scheduled for June 18th.
Another very productive spring crop at Union Orchard is Rhubarb. Last month they had a Rhubarb Festival. While rhubarb is available fresh at the orchard, it is also made into value added baked products, i.e. rhubarb pies and crisp. Union Orchard is also looking to have rhubarb from their orchard used in local wines as well.
Earlier this spring asparagus was another popular fresh item at the orchard.
Previously I mentioned sustainable practices are being used on Union Orchard. Cereal rye was planted as a cover crop in the fall of 2014, allowed to go reseed itself in 2015, came up in the fall of 2015 and provided excellent cover and weed suppression for new apple plantings earlier this spring. I featured Union Orchard’s management technique for weed control in my blog on cover crops earlier this year.
Orchard crew planting cider apple trees into the shredded down rye cover crop in the spring of 2016. Eventually several thousand cider apple trees will be planted and Union Orchard hopes to develop a hard cider operation in 5-6 years.
A grass/clover cover crop is being utilized until more trees are planted into this section of Union Orchard. This cover crop provides excellent cover for erosion control, adds nitrogen to the soil with the legumes and flowers for the bees to pollinate. These species also provide good weed control without the use of added herbicides.
A new fruit introduced to the orchard is Elder Berries. These grow wild all across Nebraska and can be very prolific berry producers. Berries from the Elderberry fruit will be used for jams, jellies and wine produced at the orchard and in cooperation with local wineries.
Grapes are another crop that are being grown and planted at Union Orchard. They have varieties grown only to make wine, a variety that can be used for wine or table grapes, and a variety that is only used for table grapes.
Fall is the primary tourist time of year for Union Orchard. They are focused at making it a destination for families to visit. Along with their apples, they will have a large field of all kinds of pumpkins in the field above and also a Corn Maze for entertainment. With all the different products and activities, plus different types of food and drink, Union Orchard is an up and coming destination to visit this fall and in years to come.