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Vista Ridge Orchard

Quilcene, Washington

Karen Brindle

Vista Ridge Orchard
Karen Brindle
Tell us about your growing philosophy.

Our philosophy is to promote the health and happiness of each tree in an all embracing way. We strive (and sweat!) to support the fruit trees so that they can grow the most nutrient rich fruit possible without any chemicals. We are not certified organic but adhere to the practice and go way beyond into the Holistic. 

Tell us about your place on Earth.

We started with raw land in the foothills of the Olympic mountains of WA that had been commercial forest, logged many times with no thought to soil health. There was very little top soil, grass barely grew once the mixed, unmanaged existing trees were removed. We currently have 240 apple trees, 80 varieties, most are traditional and heirloom  hard cider apples. We also have Perry, European and Asian pears, plums, cherry and peach trees. Our main orchard is on an Eastern facing slope, zone 8A, 600’ elevation. We do irrigate in summer but water is not in high supply so we mulch heavily with wood chips from the local forest to reduce water needs. We also amend the poor soil with copious amount of compost provided by our sheep. We used M-111 and B-118 rootstock to produce more robust trees that could tolerate less water.

What draws you to growing fruit?

There is something magic and extraordinary in witnessing the trees produce their amazing fruit! Yes, we put a lot of effort and study into how to help this happen. The trees respond to our holistic care, the health vs. disease and pests balance out and we benefit in many ways! The more I learn about the history and genetic diversity of apples, the more I have to hold back from becoming a hoarder/collector of rare varieties, such as those with deep red flesh, high tannin, amazing aromatics, and historical human significance.

What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?

I am enthralled with the fact that I can harvest and ferment  tea from plants already growing on our land in extreme abundance to boost the heath of our trees! Nettle and horsetail and I just learned from the forum about adding blackberry leaves to the mix! I had to get comfrey started but it now thinks it is 'native'.

How has an ecosystem approach changed your tree reality for the better?

The harvests! The volume of fruit our young trees (the oldest planted in 2013) are producing is astonishing and well beyond our expectations. The quality of the fruit is also very high, as the local cider maker who buys them can attest. The huge increase in native pollinators we now observe must be helped by the trees as they do most of the pollinating. The abundance allows me to relax about the native Ruffled grouse who likes to snack on Pomme Gris apples, or the black bear who broke our hot wire fence and snacked on apples until we made repairs. Striving to enhance the health of the trees and their immune response to disease and pests helps me not fret when problems arise - the trees just keep growing and compensate.

Share an “aha! moment” that made you a better grower.

Finding and reading the Apple Grower, then the HON network and forum community was huge! I knew we wanted to grow organic when we were deciding how to put our land to use, but not how. It was a whole series of aha that has led to where we are in our Orcharding adventure!

What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?

Space trees farther apart! Our tractor is a very important tool, but as our trees have grown, 16' between rows is too tight on the slope to maneuver to dump compost and mulch.

How do you go about marketing the good fruit?

We have a wonderful supportive relationship with the cider maker we sell to. We may have enough interesting, dual purpose apples to try out local farmer's markets in the future.

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