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Growing Quality Fruits Since 1945

We Bought a Brush Heap

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in News | 0 comments

This story was written by Dorothy Best and tells about the start of Best’s Fruit Farm.


We Bought a Brush Heap

It may have been a mild case of insanity that started our farming adventures.  I’m sure many of our friends and neighbors were sure it was sheer unadulterated craziness.  Time will tell which diagnosis is correct.  But perhaps the strangest of symptoms is that after 4 ½ years of unceasing labor, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in the year, -morning, noon and many nights,- neither my husband, my 14 ½ year old son, nor I would trade our jobs for any other we can think of.

Of course, we can always blame the real estate man for planting the original germ of our dementia.  My husband had been in the grocery business for over 20 years, and I had taught school almost that long, as well as keeping house a good part of that time; so when the real estate man dropped in my husband’s store to buy his weekly gifts of fruit for his married children and planted his little seed of thought, it certainly fell on fertile soil.  My husband had probably just let loose one of his periodic tirades on the lot of a grocer under the O.P.A.  Whether the real estate man suddenly bethought himself of a recently acquired tract of land just a short distance out of town, or knew that my husband’s yearly vegetable garden showed special hidden farming talents, or merely trying to keep him from going suddenly berserk over his store burdens, is merely a matter of interesting conjecture.  The fact remains that when he said, “Have you thought of a fruit farm?”, we gulped it down,- hook, line and sinker.  The location was right,- on a main highway, and near enough our home in town so that we could dash out after supper, or Sundays and holidays, and mow down some of bittersweet, poison ivy, and young trees and bushes of all description that had grown unmolested for over 15 years in the orchard of 110 old apple trees, planted some 20-25 years ago.  There were no buildings on the property except a small reservoir to a spring, on which the water rights had already been sold to 3 adjoining neighbors.  So we knew we had to drill our own well because a dependable water supply was essential.  We also knew we were gambling on the value of the old apple trees.  We knew that we would have to erect our own buildings, but I had seen my husband build desks, built-in kitchen cupboards, an outdoor fireplace, and I was sure that would be a mere trifle to one with his special talents.  And the fact that we had 48 acres of hillside where nature had been allowed to produce a fascinating tangle of beautiful trees and shrubs, merely meant that we would gradually clear it off as we needed it.  However, that bit of optimism certainly underestimated both my husband and nature.  Also, I was so intrigued by the superb view of the hillside and a valley in the distance, that I failed to notice the fact the snow on the ground might cover some pretty rocky soil.  So, being over optimistic, or slightly demented, whichever you prefer, we blithely decided we were fed up with our present methods of livelihood, but that we would continue them for a few years while we were establishing and paying for our fruit farm.

So for a little over 2 years, my husband continued with his store, and I with my teaching, and we dashed up every spare minute to our newly acquired land.  My son has always been large for his age, -was 165 lbs. of solid brawn when he was just 14, -and he, like his Dad and I, loved the great out of doors.  So his strength, coupled with his vast enthusiasm for the project, plus an amazing capacity for unceasing labor, inherited from his father, was a tremendous asset. In fact, without his help, I’m sure my husband would have given up in despair long ago.  In that 2 ¼ year period while my husband continued with the store, and I with my teaching, we managed to clean out and prune the tangle that was the old orchard, clear and plant about 8 acres of land with 200 young apple trees interplanted with about 400 young peach trees, and put up a 31’ X 32’ cement block barn and 2 adjoining sheds.  We knew that we couldn’t expect the apple trees to start to bear for at least 8 years, nor the peaches for about 4 years.  Also, we knew that as the young apple trees grew larger, the peach trees serving merely as temporary fillers, would have to be pulled out,- which in turn would necessitate clearing more land as rapidly as possible to make room for further permanent plantings of peaches.  Also, if my husband and I ever expected to see apples from enough more young trees make it possible to hire help and still keep the wolf from our door, we needed badly to clear more land as rapidly as possible to get our future bread and butter started.  The fact that after 4 ½ years of constant plugging, he still has been unable to plant more than 200 young apple trees, 1075 peach trees, 20 pear trees, 50 grape vines, and 200 raspberry bushes in soil that contains more rocks than dirt, in addition to building 2 barns and a couple roads, plus raising several thousand tomato plants and other vegetables each year for immediate bread and butter, still irks my husband terribly.  He feels he should have more apple trees started by now.  He expects the impossible of himself and usually does it.

After the first 2 ¼ years of holding down 2 jobs, he finally came to the point where he knew he could no longer carry on both jobs,- it was a matter of giving up either the store or the farm,- nor could he carry on the farm chores single-handed.  I was fairly proficient with the tractor by that time, and could wield the pruning shears on apple branches and brush, as well as anyone.  So I could see no point in spending all my small hard earned salary in paying a farm hand to do the job I loved doing while I slaved indoors.  So we both quit our other jobs that June, and decided to be poor but happy.

At the time we went in for full time farming, as I mentioned before, we cleared the old orchard, also an additional 8 acres and planted 200 young apple trees and peach trees on it, as well as erecting, with just a small amount of hired labor, a 31’ X 32’ cement block barn and 2 adjoining  sheds.  The Fall before I quit teaching, I conceived the brilliant idea of selling our 6 room house in town, erecting a temporary 3 room shelter in one corner of the barn, and concentrating all our resources and efforts on the farm.  My husband told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of my brilliant idea, but after a while I wore down his resistance, and before the winter was over, we had enclosed a little rectangle, consisting of a living room, kitchen, and bedroom, complete with curtains.  My son sleeps on a camouflaged cot in the living room.  In another corner of the barn, we had a small enclosure for our chemical toilet and rubber bathtub.  Incidentally, the lady pictured in Mr. Sears Roebuck’s catalog enjoying the rubber bathtub must have had far more leisure or patience than I did.  The process of filling and emptying it turned out to be more of a chore than I bargained for, so I usually wind up with sponge baths from a basin in the kitchen sink, unless I feel particularly ambitious or filthy, in which case I occasionally soak in the rubber bathtub, but my husband and son continue to scorn it as a ridiculous contraption, and will have nothing to do with it.  Our heating system is almost as elaborate as our plumbing system.  An ancient 5 coal and wood parlor stove keeps our 3 room apartment quite cozy in the winter (and then I move my portable rubber bathtub in the kitchen on state occasions.)  Of course there is one slight drawback to our faithful parlor stove.  We never did get a shaker with it, nor have we been able to buy one to fit it.  So, come my winter, my poor husband writhes on his back in the morning, trying to see just how much he dare poke the grate with a poker to stimulate the fire, without having it fall entirely in the ash pan or in his face, adding to the warmth of the atmosphere by a few well-chosen words on what he of that method of stove shaking.  However, as I pointed out before, we are hopeless optimists, and we keep thinking we might find a shaker sometime, -and besides, there are so many other ways to spend the $25 or $50 it would take for a new stove.

Speaking of other ways to spend $25 or $50, would fill a young encyclopedia.  We started with one barn and sheds, we now have 2 barns and wish for still more space, including a refrigerated storage room.  We hopefully started with an old tractor and an ancient sprayer of the same vintage as a Model T Ford, and last winter were driven to spend the small sum we set aside for a future humble bungalow of our own building for the purchase of a new adequate sprayer and crawler type tractor.  I know they were much more necessary than a little bungalow, but approaching needs for a storage room, a grader, hired help,- all seem to be pushing the little bungalow so far ahead into the dim future, that I no longer get much pleasure in even dreaming about it.  And incidentally, the things I would like to say to Johnnie Q. Public when he rants on about these wealthy farmers and the high cost of apples, wouldn’t be fit for print.  What does he know or care about the high cost of farm equipment, spray materials, fertilizers, containers, or labor, couple with the long period of waiting before our trees even begin to give us an income?  Nor does it matter to him if the type of apples or peaches which seemed to be in demand when they were planted 4 or 8 years ago, suddenly turn out to be a drug on the market.  Neither would he care how hard it is to plant and cultivate in rocky soil, although eventually trees seem to thrive in it.  Nor is he interested in the fact that a sudden frost, drought, windstorm or ice storm could wipe out our next years bread and butter.  And if apples bring only $1.00-$1.25 a bushel one year, that should be plenty for us.  Nor does he care that we have to work all day and half the night during harvest season to earn enough money to tide us over the 9 months we have no income, and if illness strikes during that busy season, it’s a pretty horrible, helpless feeling.  I think Mr. Johnnie Q. Public thinks all fruit farmers go south about Nov.1st and lie on the sunny sands until they fly back with the blue birds.  When does Mr. J. Q. Public think the fruit farmer does his pruning, let alone clearing new land for planting?  As I said before we now have a total of about 110 old apple trees, 200 young apple trees, 1075 peach trees, 20 pear trees, as well as raspberries and grapes, and believe me, if the 3 of us find time after picking our apples to finish pruning all of them before its time to start dormant spray in early spring, we’ll be doing very well, and wading many a snow bank to do it.  We are forced to hire some help during our harvest season but we can’t afford regular help, even by augmenting our income with vegetables while waiting for our trees to mature and start paying for themselves. We did plant 2500 tomato plants this year to help balance the budget.  But have you any idea how long it takes to pick, sort, and pack that many tomatoes, while the apples drop to the ground for want of picking?  And the time spent on them is that much less time we can spend in developing our orchard, but in the meantime we must eat.  We’re funny that way.  But please understand, we don’t very often gripe about it, until J.Q. Public starts telling us how rich we’re getting, and how little we do to earn it.  Of course, I do have a little bit of sympathy with Mrs. J.Q. Public when she tells me she just can’t start her canning until the fall when it’s cooler, and then is dismayed when the peaches are all gone.  It is hot to have to can when the temperate hovers around 100.  But that’s when most of us farm wives do ours.  We do it whenever it’s there, regardless of the thermometer, and we’ve got to get it done before the thick of the harvest season, or we don’t have any of our own berries, peaches, corn, or tomatoes next winter.

All of which probably adds up to the fact that there’s a price you have to pay for everything.  If you’re not rich enough to buy a fruit farm someone else has started, and you want a fruit farm badly enough, you grub it out, Daniel Boone style.  It’s a bit rough on the back and hands sometimes, but I never cared much for bridge, so that doesn’t bother me.  We know we’re still a long hill climb before we can start to hope for a little easier climbing.  And of course there’s still a chance we could slip and fall back down the hill.  But if God grants us sufficient health to carry on, we’re still not sorry we started climbing the hill.  And suddenly, one day in the fall, when we pause to admire the vivid red of the Jonathan apples, the yellow and pink blush on the Banana apples, the gorgeous big King apples, and then turn to drink in the scarlet and green beauty of our dogwood, or the gold and black picture of our tulip tree, or the majesty of our giant maples, or look at the oriental carpet of color across the road, which is my favorite hillside smacked against the blue sky, somehow all our difficulties and tribulations fade into insignificance.  Even the snow and ice on the hillside make a fairyland of unbelievable jeweled and crystal beauty.  And the spring, my favorite of all the seasons, compensates over abundantly with its unfolding blossoms, new green life, and a sweetness in the air.  Just to be allowed to work and breathe surrounded by so much beauty, makes you stop and breathe a prayer of thankfulness. Yes, we do have to pay a price for the privilege of that kind of life.  But I ask you, do you really think we’re completely crazy?

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Apples or Snowballs???

Posted by on Oct 29, 2011 in News | 0 comments

Snowballs, or apples, that is the question! An unusual end to the month of October for sure this year!  I was going to write about “no Halloween party is complete unless you have apple cider from Best’s” but I’m sure a lot of those parties have been cancelled or postponed today. We were very busy yesterday in the retail store and I know for sure that most of my customers who bought apples yesterday are enjoying apple pies today. Stayman Winesap, Cortland, and Jonathan apples were very popular at the sales counter!
For those of you who might still have those Halloween parties I have a suggestion. Go outside, make a snowman and then dress it for Halloween. AND THEN come inside and drink a mug of hot mulled apple cider to warm up!

Apples or Snowballs?

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Stayman Winesap Finally Harvested

Posted by on Oct 25, 2011 in News | 0 comments

You have been waiting all fall for Stayman apples and we have finally harvested the first of the 2011 crop. So, get those pie pans ready…it is pie season, too!


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Cider Making Process!

Posted by on Oct 18, 2011 in News | 0 comments

Take a look through some of the pictures of our cider making mill!

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