Union Orchard

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 UNL
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.
Union Orchard Wostrel sign
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.

Union Orchard Store #1Union Orchard Store #2

photo Union Orchard Store #3

photo Union Orchard Store #4
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.
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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.
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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.
photo Gazebo in the orchard
Union Orchard has Gazebos at strategic locations on the orchard for pickers to relax and rest while they are picking various types of produce.

photo strawberries up close

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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.
photo of Rhubarb Union Orchard
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.
photo asparagus Union Orchard
Earlier this spring asparagus was another popular fresh item at the orchard.
cereal rye #1
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.
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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.
Cover crop in an orchard
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.
photo Elder Berries Union Orchard
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.
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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.
photo pumpkin patch Union Orchard
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.

 

Gerdes Heritage Fowl

This first post marks the launching of my new blog “Saremansagnews”. The first farm we are featuring is Gerdes Heritage Fowl.  Dan Gerdes is owner and operator and lives near Johnson, NE in Nemaha County.

photo guard dog
Dan lives on 2.5 acres where his 210 ducks and 40 chickens are raised free-range together. His primary breed of ducks are Khaki Campbell. Hs has a Great Pyrenees guard dog named “Freyr” who protects his fowl from predators.

 

photoducks outside
Ducks and chickens go inside an old hog shed which has been converted to a duck and chicken house for the fowl.

 

photo duck shed and waterers
The converted hog shed provides ducks and chicken protection and shelter from the weather and cold in winter.  The 5 gallon buckets are used as waterers for the fowl.

 

photo plastic pipe feeders
These PVC pipe are used as feeders for the fowl.  These are located inside the shed.

 

photo duck eggs
Notice all the duck eggs in the yard!  Dan likes to have the ducks be outside so they will lay their eggs in the yard and they will be much cleaner. Dan collects 8-9 dozen every day.

 

greenhouse structure
Dan is expanding this year with another enterprise, vegetable production. He has built a small greenhouse for starting plants.
plants in greenhouse
Plants growing in his greenhouse will be planted in his raised bed garden.

 

raised beds garden
Dan uses compost produced from manure of the ducks and chickens and wood shavings.  This compost is spread on top of the raised beds he has built in the garden.  Some of the vegetable crops Dan will raise include: tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, kale, okra and even sunflowers.  He plans on selling produce at the Auburn Farmer’s Market and at the Farmer’s Market in Rockbrook in Omaha as well this summer.

Dan has read the book “The Lean Farm” and believes the principles of recycling materials and cutting costs. He works with schools and talks about local food to students and others in the community.  Dan is active in the community and donates eggs for the firemen for their fundraiser each year.  You can find out about Dan’s farm on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/gerdesfowl