Q & A with Russell Orchards in Ipswich, Massachusetts
This week we had the privilege of chatting with Miranda Russell, owner of the iconic Russell Orchards in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Miranda dished about apple picking, apple tree pruning, preparing your strawberries for winter and other great New England traditions. Check out what she had to say in our fun “Q & A”:
What are you growing in your orchards?
“We have roughly 15,000-16,000 trees here on the farm and they are primarily apple trees. We also have several hundred other fruit bearing trees that grow well in this region, such as peach, pear, plum and apricot. We also grow other fruiting plants like elderberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and plants that grow on canes like currants.”
How has the New England drought affected you?
“Unfortunately, everything has been under quite a bit of stress this year due to the ongoing extreme drought. Trying to maintain the overall health under these kind of conditions can be very tricky. We use drip irrigation in our orchard and fortunately we haven’t run out of water from our own sources, a pond and a spring-fed well on the property. A huge concern through this growing season with producing fruit is reducing stress to ensure the plants go into dormancy with enough stores in their roots to get some bud growth in the spring.”
Is it apple picking season yet?
“Right now we are getting into apple picking season, we have been doing “pick your own” all month which is really fun. There is a festive atmosphere around here because people come out of the woodwork to do their apple picking tradition with their families or their friends. We have a hayride on the weekends that takes people out to the apple picking and they can come back to the store and enjoy some cider and cider donuts and just hang out and pick out a pumpkin. It’s cool to follow-up on long-standing traditions with friends or family and to start new traditions. Going apple picking in the fall always feels like the quintessential New England thing to do. Picking is in full swing right now and it should stay that way through Columbus Day.”
The cider donuts are AMAZING. What’s the secret?
“The cider donuts are such a draw. Not to brag but most farms are using a bag mix instead of a homemade recipe, and then they roll them in a cinnamon and sugar mix to mask the industrial flavor. So, it’s funny because we have been doing our cider donuts for a long time and it’s a family recipe and we don’t dip them in the sugar. Now you can get cider donuts at Whole Foods, and other markets that don’t make apple cider, and these donuts always have the sugar. So when people haven’t had ours yet they are surprised. I tell them that they don’t need the extra sugar. There is enough inside the batter, believe me.”
Any special winter preparation?
“The only plants that need winter preparation at Russell Orchards are our strawberry plants. We actually do put a one inch layer of straw on our strawberries as a cover that protects them from too much cold. If people don’t have straw, you can always buy garden fabric at any garden centers and just use one little layer of it. In this region, you want to put it on around Thanksgiving, in late November or early December.”
Most popular question for the staff: When do you prune your apple trees?
“Because we are an apple orchard people often ask us apple tree related questions. Pruning is really critical to tree health and we prune every year once the trees have started to go dormant. Last winter was tough because we had such a mild winter overall for the most part it was hard to get anything into dormancy. In the middle of December, January, February is great for pruning.”
This year, when you are out driving and checking out the beautiful New England foliage, stop by Russell Orchard to pick some crisp delicious apples right off the tree or just treat yourself to cider donut… or five.
More on Russell Orchards here.