By Braden Wallenkamp
Throughout the spring and summer, Gwenyn Hill Farm fills its 12 acre vegetable field with annual crops. Most of these crops are what fill the farmstand, sell at the farmers market, and make up CSA shares each week. Beginning in 2017, Gwenyn Hill began planting perennial fruits with four acres of heritage fruit trees. Now there are over six acres of perennial crops. Unlike our annual vegetables, perennials regrow year after year, some remaining productive for decades. Included in these plantings are asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, currants, gooseberries, the new U-Pick herb garden for CSA members, grapes in the vineyard, and perhaps most exciting, nearly 400 fruit trees in the orchard. Planting these crops is an investment that sometimes, like in the case of the orchard and vineyard, requires patience and a few years of hard work and attention to yield a full harvest.
Overseeing our perennials is our Orchard and Perennial Plantings Manager, Charlie Parker. Since the spring of 2021, Charlie has been working to keep these plantings healthy as they grow to be productive parts of Gwenyn Hill Farm. As a largely self-taught fruit grower, Charlie has spent much of his time at Gwenyn Hill devising protocols for the care of these perennial plantings. As you would assume, the four-and-a-half acre orchard has consumed much of his time. Each of these plantings is different, so to understand the best practices for each, Charlie has used his 11 years of experience, along with loads of reading and research, to guide his practices.
Charlie’s goal for the orchard and vineyard is to keep them healthy and prepare them for years of production. This past summer, he spent much of his time using organic and holistic practices to rid the orchard of pests like Japanese beetles. With a season of trial and error under his belt, Charlie has developed new methods of control that will help the trees and vines grow strong enough to eventually fend off pests independently. This happens when the plants are strong and healthy. This time of year, in the orchard, Charlie is pruning each tree, looking at each branch and noting the swelling that signals new fruit. This task promotes strong growth for the coming season.
Another task that Charlie has overseen is the new irrigation system, which will be installed in the next few months. Through regular irrigation, the tree’s trunks and root systems are strengthened. Charlie notes that the wide spacing between the trees gives them ample space to extend their root network and hold strong to the soil, important on their steeply sloped hillside. Through these methods, and many more, Charlie is helping the orchard and vineyard develop a solid, healthy foundation.
In other perennial news, the asparagus patch is expanding with 400 new purple asparagus crowns to be planted this spring. We are starting a U-Pick herb garden for CSA members, as well. This coming June, we are looking forward to stocking more currants and gooseberries in our farmstand, and are seeking creative ways to sell our elderberries. We are hopeful for a substantial grape harvest and continually excited about the coming asian pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and apples. Fruit is in our future and we look forward to sharing more delicious produce with you in the years to come.
Braden Wallenkamp is a recent graduate of Lake Forest College. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies. She joined Gwenyn Hill’s team in the spring of 2021.