Read all our farm reports here, where I follow along with my brothers, Dean Johnson and Ward Johnson of Johnson Farms north of Mapleton, and tell you what’s happening on the farm each week.
This week on the farm, they’re installing posts in vineyards, running irrigation lines, encountering mystery foundations, and pondering a sparse apple crop.
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As noted in previous farm reports, Dean and Ward have spent much of the spring planting thousands of orchard trees and grapevines. There’s a lot of money wrapped up in these plantings – including the price of trees and vines, as well as the labor – so they’re very cognizant about getting water to them as soon as possible.
That stress is compounded by the fact that we haven’t had a lot of rain so far this year.
Running Irrigation for New Honeycrisp Apples
In my April 20 farm report, I posted about Dean and his crew planting a new block of Honeycrisp apples on the corner of Kroupa Road and Center Road. These are what they call “high-density” plantings, a modern method where you can plant 1000 trees per acre rather than the old-fashioned method of 100 trees per acre. That’s a no-brainer for high-production value.
After the trees were planted, posts were installed to support the trees, and this week they’ve moved onto irrigation. Here are a few photos of the process of digging the new irrigation lines in that new orchard. It’s a 2-inch main with 1/2-inch hoses. I caught up with Dean and his wife, Laura, working on it on a Sunday.
There was already a well on this property when Dean purchased it from Monnie Peters. So the new irrigation runs off that well, which operates on a computerized system inside the little building there.
A Mystery Foundation
This next part of this story is what happens when you farm land that’s been farmed by various families over many generations. As they were digging the irrigation line, Dean said they hit an old foundation for a building once located there, the depth of which is unknown because they didn’t get to the bottom of it.
The foundation is located on the north side of the apple orchard, near the Smith’s house, which used to be Cort and Pansy Gore’s house when I was a kid. “We’re laying in a two-inch main, and we had to tunnel along the side of whatever it was,” Dean notes.
They dug up an assortment of items, including ancient pottery, fruit-picking buckets, nails, wire, “and huge rocks, from some foundation of a barn, I assume,” he says.
Below is a photo of the location of the foundation, along with a few of those items (does Dean have hardworking farmer hands? Yes, he does).
And a Model T (or Model A) Jack?
They also found the item pictured below. My mechanic husband Tim thinks it might be a jack for a Ford Model T or Model A. If that’s indeed what it is, that gives us some sort of timeline for the foundation. The Model T was produced from 1908 to 1927, and the Model A from 1927 to 1931 (or 1903 to 1904).
If you know what this mystery structure might have been or if you have any old photos of the farm that included a barn in this spot, leave a note in the comments section below or email me, [email protected].
Installing Posts for Grapevines
Meanwhile, over on Ward’s farm just up the hill on Center Road (he purchased this farm from Reva Gore Greilick years ago), the crew was installing posts for a new block of Pinot Grigio grapes planted just weeks ago. Many of the longtime orchard farmers are now planting grapes here and there, which are sold to local wineries.
The vines were planted by Ben Bramer, who along with his wife Jen, runs Agrivine, a farm management business on the Old Mission Peninsula. They also own the popular Lokel Yokels Farm Stand on Center Road, selling a variety of fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables during the growing season.
To install the poles, Ward said they’re trying a technique that involves running water into the ground to make it easier to pound the posts in. From what I could tell while we were there, it works great.
Here are a few photos of that process. There’s water in the sprayer tank which runs through a hose and into the ground. One person runs the water, another sets the post, and another pounds the post in.
Here’s an older block of grapes on Ward’s farm, just up the hill to the east from the newly-planted vines…
The Frost Report – A Sparse Apple Crop
So how is the apple crop looking? Here’s what Dean said when I asked if they have an apple crop.
“Some of the blocks yes, but most of the blocks no. The Ida Reds below the big barn (north of Mapleton) are pretty well loaded. The Honeys (Honeycrisp) … there’s enough Honeys there to hopefully pay the bills. All the apples from Tom’s (McManus) on down – about 20,000 trees – there’s pretty much nothing on them.”
The apples he’s talking about next to Tom McManus’ farm are on a parcel you’ve heard me call “The Forty,” on the corner of Peninsula Drive and Kroupa Road. This is one of the orchards where the bees were swarming a couple weeks ago.
Here’s a photo of that apple orchard from the south end. You can see Peninsula Fruit Exchange (now Seneca) in the middle of the photo on the far end, across Kroupa Road. On the left, you can just barely see the roof of Tom McManus’ barn.
Tim and I spot-checked here and there for apples, and for the most part, we couldn’t find any apples in the younger trees, which is basically most of this block you see in the photo above.
Here are photos on both ends of that orchard. The first is on the north end, and the second is on the south end. Not an apple to be found.
However, in some of the older trees towards the northeast corner of the parcel, we did see a few apples. Here’s a photo of some of those tiny apples.
While we were there, I took a couple photos of the horses grazing on an unplanted section of “The Forty.” These horses, who always pose so nicely for me, belong to the family across Peninsula Drive, with the red barn near the road.
Dean lets them graze there, and I’m really glad they fenced off the little pond in the middle of the field. I know from experience that it’s a bear getting out of that pond if you fall in there. Our parents always warned us about that pond!
Prices and Processors
Overall, Dean says what they really need right now is rain. “Farmers are never happy, are we?” he laughs. “Too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cold…”
And as I’ve mentioned in just about every farm report this year, they continue to spray. Right now, they’re spraying for fungus in the orchards, to protect the leaves and keep them from turning yellow and falling off the trees.
Although this year’s frost knocked out a lot of the cherry and apple crop, the upside is that the prices are looking like they might be higher.
“Rumors are already starting about how much crop we have and what we’re going to get paid,” says Dean. “It looks like the prices are inching up for tarts and sweets, and probably apples. Processors are starting to ask what kind of crop we have so they can prepare for filling their orders.”