Thirty-three years ago this month we started restoring and renovating Russell Orchards. At that time it was called Goodale Orchards, a name it had carried for fifty-nine years. In 2000 we decided that it was time to give it our name.
We were a suburban family; an aerospace engineer, a nurse, and five nearly adult children. Other than weekend gardening we hadn’t given much thought to farming but Max was looking for a career change and this was it. The whole family pitched in to get things operating. Our four sons worked after school and then during the summer, our daughter was committed to another summer job but her boy friend came to stay and work.
Well-managed orchards are replanted every twenty years or so on a rotating basis. Our trees had been planted in l920. The hurricane of 1938 had taken down half of the trees and those remaining needed constant attention.
Apple trees must be pruned in the winter, thinned in the summer and watched vigilantly for signs of insects and disease. Mice nibble at the roots and poison ivy left unchecked will strangle the trees. We knew nothing about this but we learned.
We joined the Essex County Fruit Growers Association and the New York and New England Apple Institute. We subscribed to Fruit Grower, Vegetable Grower, Farm Journal, and Farm Wife News, journals we had not even imagined existed. We discovered a whole sub-culture to which we suddenly belonged. Other growers were generous with their advice and support.
It was fortunate that Max had worked summers during college as a mechanic and had taught our sons the intricacies of engines. The tractors nearly qualified as antiques. They needed constant attention to be coaxed into pulling the nearly as decrepit sprayer and mower.
The orchard store opened in September with apples, cider, some preserves, and candy. There have been tremendous changes over the years as anyone familiar with the orchard can attest. There were struggles but also great satisfaction along the way.
Our 34th season is about to begin. Four years ago we were thrilled to be able to turn the orchard over to our son Doug and his wife Miranda. Perhaps in another twenty-five or thirty years it will be one of their children, Cecelia or Hunton who will be running the orchard.