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There is nothing like walking through the apple orchard in early Spring. You can see the trees starting to take life and begin the process you work so hard to accomplish which is bearing fruit. A healthy properly kept tree will grow vigorously, produce fruit and most importantly fend off disease. But let’s be serious this is a pipe dream. I would love to paint the Instagram picture of the farmer walking through the orchard admiring the beauty he has created but that is just not true. Everywhere I look I am constantly frustrated by disease. Fungus to be exact, not only have my feet bared the brunt of this organic specimen but my trees have to deal with it too.

We live in Western Washington where fungus is everywhere, this is also a large reason you do not see commercial apple orchards over here on the west side. The east side of the mountain are much warmer where fungus cannot fester. Fungus can take over your orchard and effect your crop to detrimental portions. Fighting it is very difficult and takes a constant every changing formula to combat fungus diseases. Although we use some Fungicides we are trying to implement a more natural approach with newly developed organic sprays such as Timeguard and other assortment of oils.

This got me thinking what are some of the things you can use in your own home to protect your tree from fungicide. Warning: I have not tried this but after looking at the ingredients in our organic sprays these applications are not too far apart. Here are the 4 I think would work best.

Formula #1 (I like this one it will fight almost every type of fungus)

Ingredients: 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda ,1 Quart Warm Water, Small Squirt Dish Soap

Directions: Dissolve baking soda in warm water and add soap. Mix carefully and test on the tree before spraying the whole thing. If this solution is too strong it will burn the leaves. Never spray this in direct sunlight, try to do it on days with little to no wind and in the late evening hours.

Formula #2 (this one is good for black spot, leaf spot and scab mildew)

Ingredients: 

1 Gallon Water, 3Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar ,Dash Of Molasses, Dash of Mild Dish Soap

Directions: Mix and spray in the early morning or late evening. Avoid spraying it on windy days or in direct sunlight

Formula #3 (the stinky one, protects against Powery Mildew, Downy Mildew and Leaf Spot)

Ingredients:

3 Ounces Minced Garlic,1 Ounce Mineral Oil, Dash of dish soap

Directions:

Combine garlic and oil and leave for 24 hours. Then mix into 1 gallon of water add the dish soap and spray. Avoid spraying in direct sunlight or on windy days

Formula #4 (this one I have never tried anything close to but apparently Corn Meal is a good ant-fungus it also stimulates micro-organisms)

Use 2 lbs per 100 Sq. feet of horticultural cornmeal or whole cornmeal. Spread around the base of the tree and activate it with water.

Ingredients

1 cup of cornmeal

1 gallon of water

Soak cornmeal overnight, then strain and spray onto the trees.

With the weather getting more mild and wet it is a perfect time for fungus to grow and spread. These are safe and effective ways to combat fugus on your fruit trees at home. If this does not work I would try a organic fungicide at your local nursery. If that does not work I recommend a conventional approach such as Captian, Bravo, or Rally. These are all very effective commercial grade sprays. Good luck and hopefully you can rid your trees of Fungus…..

If you have not been out to trim up those apple trees, now is the time to go out there and start hacking away. A question we get quite regularly is how should I prune my trees. Although we cannot possibly teach you everything about pruning in this blog post, we will try to explain the 6 basic steps we try to remember when pruning our apple trees without trimming it down to nothing or leaving too many branches.

A few most before you start; Be sure to have sharp pruners, a cut on a tree is similar to one on your own body. A rough cut with dole pruners will take longer to heal and can cause disease. When using sharp pruners the tree is more likely to heal much faster and lessen the chance of disease. Remember to pick up all your branches off the ground. These branches will decompose and carry diseases if not removed. Make sure you have a good ladder. Nothing is worse then being unstable in high places.

Now that you have the essentials here are our 6 steps to pruning:

  1. Reduce your crop load- One of the first thing you will need to get over is that it is ok to cut branches off that have many fruit buds. I know personally I still struggle with this aspect of pruning. Apple trees are precocious by nature though, meaning they will naturally set a lot of fruit thus making fruit very small if not thinned. By pruning your apple trees you are taking potential apples off your tree allowing the tree to put more energy into less apples making them the desired size.
  2. Keeping trees in their space- This is more for the commercial grower. In our orchard we have trees about two to three feet away from each other. You at home are not going to have this problem however it is a good way to think about pruning. Think of your tree like its in a bubble anything outside of that bubble and infringes on another object needs to be taken out.
  3. 50% Rule- This is a big one and is often times not done correctly. Once your tree starts to produce past the first few years its important implement this rule. The 50% rule is when a side branch gets 50% or larger then the truck or lead branches it is time to take out the smaller branch. If you do not take out those larger side branches they will start to compete with the lead which you do not want happening on your tree.
  4. Allow for Sunlight- This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when you are deciding what branches to remove. Most all red apple varieties and especially in western Washington need as much sunlight as possible to ripen. Most all vertical growing branches we take out because these are the most likely to shade future apples. If your apples are shaded by other branches, they will not turn that beautiful color of red when you expect them to and in some cases not ripen at all. So look to always allow sunlight.
  5. Stimulate new growth- A big part of why we prune is to stimulate new growth. Your best producing branches are 3 to 5 years old. After that time period size and quality are reduced. By taking out older branches it will increase the quality of your crop.
  6. Remove dead or dying wood- This is a fairly easy and straight forward rule to remember. Over time some parts of the tree become infected with bacteria and in our case here in Western Washington, fungus. By removing these branches it keeps your tree fresh and healthy.

Pruning apple trees is a difficult thing to master. Not every tree and situation is the same. We personally here at Swans Trail Farms make plenty of mistakes. But try to remember these 6 steps and hopefully it will improve your confidence and increase the quality of some nice juicy apples in your near future. As my beautiful Texan wife would say “Happy Pruning Y’all.”

Top 5 Apples Trees for Your Home

Right now is the perfect time to plant your apple trees. Every year we get the question of what trees are the easiest plus has the best apple we can plant in our own home? We have compiled a list of our top 5 trees we consider to be a great option for your own home.

  1. Jonagold– I like to call this our utility apple, it is great for baking or eating fresh. If makes a good cider and holds really well. This tree will produce year after year with very little work on your end. It needs very little thinning and is fairly disease resistant. This apple will ripen in early October just in time for your Halloween parties. (Hint: Make sure you have other trees around that will pollinate your Jonagold)
  2. Cosmic Crisp– If you can get your hands on this tree you are one of the few. A fairly new apple that took 20 years to develop by Washington State University. You can only plant these trees in Washington commercially for the next ten years at which time they will be released to the rest of the country. Very rough and tough apple, the main benefit is how long it keeps. You can pick it in late Sept and eat it in November and it will taste just the same as if you got it off the tree. An amazing tree that is fairly easy to care for while it grows. It is very disease resistant and can handle Western Washington’s climate well. I would have put this tree at number one if it was not such a young variety. I imagine with in the next few years Cosmics will be my first choice. (Hint: Do not let your fruit bearing branches get too long, keep them pruned close to the main part of the tree)
  3. Pristine-If you are looking for an early apple this is the one for you. Although we do not grow this one anymore it is a great one if you are looking for an apple that is disease resistance. A Yellow skin apple that has a moderately tart flavor mostly used for baking but can be eaten fresh. It will hold onto the tree for a very long time which allows for a longer harvest window. (Hint: Make sure your tree is planted in well drained soil, it does not do well in wet ground)
  4. Karmijn de Sonnaville– This is great home apple and if you are not interested in the perfect looking apple. It is very hard to get a hold of but is highly recommended when you find one online or at your local nursery. We do not grow this one simply because the look does not bow well for our customers however it is best adapted for home orchards. The apple is the perfect blend of sweet and tartness. It is fairly disease resistant and easy to prune. As it matures the skin often gets russeted which gives it a grainy light brown cover making it not very attractive. (Hint: The apple will develop a fairly spicy flavor three to four weeks in storage.)
  5. Honeycrisp– Of course what we are known for the honeycrisp is one of a kind. I put this on the very bottom because it is a much harder apple to grow. The only reason it made the list is simply because you cannot beat the taste. It is very susceptible disease and bi annual production. It needs to be thinned and pruned correctly in order to get the best apple possible. It is also very susceptible to scabbing and bitterpit. If you are looking for a really good apple that takes a lot of work this one is for you. (Hint: Honeycrisps are slow growing trees, by training the branches to bend down it will release a hormone in the tree that will make it produce more blossoms thus giving you more apples)

In Western Washington some trees do not do well. Gala, Zestar and Pink Lady have not done well for us. After planting these varieties we ended up taking them out in a few years do to disease, long term ripening and weakness of trees. I would not recommend these trees, pretty much garbage for this area.

I hope this helps and happy planting!!!!

Field work will start here very soon at Swans Trail Farms and it is one of my favorite times of year. Although snow is still falling I cannot wait for the next couple months to start. Spring represents a new beginning to a new year for our farm and lets face it we are all looking forward to a new beginning this year. The weather is traditionally cool in the morning and heats up through the day. It’s a time when we start up the equipment and get our fields ready. I have been working the same fields since I was 10 years old. It’s a fun challenging process that if done right we will have an abundance of pumpkins, apples, sweet corn and strawberries.

I think my love for field work came from the first dog I ever owned, Mick. He was not the most beautiful dog the first time I saw him. It was a stray that was dropped off in front of the farm down the road. His back had some sort of skin disease and was as skinny as a rail. It was not in my families’ interest to have such a nasty looking dog but with as a young 11 year old boy who had a soft spot for dogs I would hop on my bike and go visit him daily.  Each time I visited I expected him to be gone but every time I rounded the corner the dog was still sitting or laying in the exact same spot along the Snohomish River his previous owner dropped him off at. My young naïve mind thought that nobody knew what I was doing because for sure if my dad found out I was visiting this dog and occasionally bringing him a small snack I would be in deep… For two weeks this continued and I named him Mick after hall of fame baseball player Micky Mantle. Every time he would just be sitting there waiting for his previous owner and never following me home.

It was not until my 5th grade parent teacher conference until I found out my dad knew all this time what I was up to with this ragged dog. My teacher Mrs. Raines was known as one the toughest teachers in our district with some very high expectations, something I admired later in my own teaching career. She insisted that not only the parents go to the conference but the student should be there as well, not something I was looking forward to. As we got into the old farm truck and made our way out of the valley up to Riverview Elementary, my heart pounded in fear of what Mrs. Raines was going to tell my father. I remember it being very short some positive with just a few things a parent knows their child needs to work on.

We drove home from the parent teacher conference and my dad did not say much and I was not about to ask anything.  As we approached the farm the old farm truck kept driving past the barns down the road to the place Mick had made a home. I will never forget what my dad said about that dog, “You had an alright conference. This dog has not left this spot for days, it most be a good dog.” Mick jumped in the back of the truck and made the short trip to his new home that afternoon.

My dad was right, Mick was a great dog. It took a couple weeks of whole unpasteurized milk straight from the cow to clear up his skin and filled out nicely once he got some food in him. He quickly became my shadow here at Swans Trail Farms, everywhere I went he went with me. His favorite spot was in a seat of a tractor. I would spend hours going up and down fields with him by my side. He would give me company on all those long days that felt would never end to a young kid. The times that he was not on the tractor he would be at the edge of the field watching and waiting for me to be done, just like he did when we first met.

Mick died when I was in my early twenties. He was a great dog and still have not had a dog that could compare to Mick. I know it sounds funny but I think the reason I enjoy spring and the fields so much was because that of the mangy dog and the memories I had with him. There is truly nothing like a good farm dog.

I have been taught at a young age to pay attention to small details because without the small things there are really no big things that will be accomplished.

When Linda Neunzig came to me and asked if I would be willing to participate in the 5G Food Resiliency Project, I said “sure” without even knowing what this program was about. I have learned through the farming community that when Linda says she has an idea you listen and say “sure”.

We have never had very good connectivity and has been an issue for many rural areas around Washington state. Connectivity is something that many people take for granted where we have struggled with it through the years. Everything we do is through a low broadband hot spot or dish network. This makes bringing any sort of technology to Swans Trail Farms almost impossible unless we have the connectivity needed.

During the Covid Pandemic we as nation realized how fragile our food supply chain was do to lost labor, shipping and distribution problems. It was something that needs to be addressed and improved. As the CARES Act started settling in the county saw an opportunity to strengthen agriculture in Snohomish County and beyond. This is where technology comes into play, no other industry while equally important has seen a lack of technology implemented as Agriculture. Manufacturing, healthcare, banking to name a few who have seen huge strides through the years in technology while agriculture has seen very little. By implementing technology farms will be able to grow more food in a smaller amount of space. It will make our crops more efficient and farms will not be as depended on labor with more automation. The 5G Food Resiliency Project will advance technology in agriculture.

Think of the Food Resilience Project as a sandbox, its place to test new and cutting edge technologies that can be used in the future on different farms. Swans Trail Farms fit perfectly within the three criteria they were looking for. First and foremost our location to I-5 and Everett gave them the ability access sites needed to complete this project. Secondly we have apples which are the one of the top exports for Washington State along with a variety of crops such as Strawberries, corn and of course pumpkins. Thirdly we here at Swans Trail Farms are very excited about this program and how it can help benefit other farms in the valley and beyond.

We have started using these new technologies in the apple orchard which is a main priority for this project. Last week we put in moister probs and a weather station. Along with WSU Extensiond and Steve Mantle from Innov8 ag we will be monitoring the amount of water and nutrients our apples will be getting throughout the growing season. These water sensors are a fairly new technology that will tell us when we need to water and when to shut it off. Just like the human body the amount of water you give an apple tree will dictate the health of the tree. In the past it was done by just a feeling with no real data telling us if we needed to water our trees. It was basically a shot in the dark which we had no clue if we were watering too much or not enough. The moisture probs will give us the hard data that communicates a desired amount of water to grow the perfect tree. Washington State University also installed a cutting edge weather station that will measure anything and everything you can think of with weather. Each orchard has small microclimates within its orchard. This piece of technology will let us monitor those climates and react appropriately to the data gathered. As time moves on we will be excited to welcome other new innovative ways to bring technology to Swans Trail Farms.

The 5G Food Resiliency Project will be a step in improving agriculture and the way farms grow their crop. As my father farmer Ben always said nothing great ever happens, it takes many small steps of improvement to make great things happen. I know this project is one of those steps.

The amount of friends I have made through the years in the farming community are too many to count. When I was younger as a dairy farm there was always a salesman, vet, or random contractor visiting the farm. During those years my dad would spend hours visiting and spending time with his friends that would stop by. Even when he was in the thick of his busy season he would always made time to talk. I have found this to be true at our farm but also true for most all farmers. The farming community is not like any other industry you will find.

Today there are many friends I have met through Swans Trail Farms. There is of course all the other pumpkin farms in the Snohomish Valley which I have mentioned in past blog post. I will not keep talking about these fellow farmers. These families are dear to my heart and I feel blessed to be part of their community.

There are always the salesman. I hesitate even to call them salesmen and women because I consider them my friends. Our pumpkin and corn seed guy is a young good looking dude who has a family like myself that I always enjoy hearing about. He has more knowledge about pumpkin plants that I can even hope to have, the time he talks I am mesmerized with information. Our equipment salesman has been with us since our dairy farming days. It is a time span of over 30 years. The guy can fabricate just about anything out of steel. With this long relationship we can trust everything he says which is rare in that business. Unfortunately this year is his last year and will be sorely missed. Our fertilizer saleswomen is young and intelligent. I can’t tell you how many times she has figured out what we need to apply make our crops the best they possibly can be.

Mick is our reluctant tractor mechanic. I say reluctant because each time he comes out he threatens to retire. At the ripe age of his early to mid seventies I can’t image not being able to call him when he is needed. Most every time there is a solid 1 hour catching up and visiting with each other.

Then there is Snohomish County and yes they are our friends. I have been lucky enough to get to know Linda Neunzig whom is the Snohomish County Ag Coordinator. She has been friends with my parents since they were teachers (they had her as a student in the eighties) some 40 years ago. Since I have come to the farm full- time I have gotten to know her and appreciate everything she has done for agriculture in the Snohomish Valley. She truly cares about our industry and the people she works with. We are very lucky to have such an advocate and friend in our industry.

For years my dad’s high school basketball coach Jack Dekubber who has been planting his famous Dutch potatoes in a small patch near our apple orchard for the past 20 years. He is 83 years old and still comes down every season to plant the potatoes his family has been planting for generations. Each harvest season his kids come and help him dig them up and wash them clean. Although he is known for rototilling, driving and who knows what else to our crops we cherish the time he is down here with us.

Frank the pickle man makes the best pickles you have ever tasted. He is a long time community guy who also drives tractor for us during the fall season. He grows his cukes out here and prepares him for canning with his wife Marsha. He is quick to hand you a homemade burrito at any time of the day and makes the best salsa. I enjoy the time I get to spend with him in the fields.

I am very lucky to have such great people in my industry and life. I can fully appreciate all the different friends we have came into contact through the years. As my dad would always welcome everyone who visits Swans Trail Farms, I find myself doing the same.

I hope that everyone is having a great holiday season and enjoying time with their loved ones at whatever capacity it may be. I am lucky enough to spend time with my beautiful wife Kim and my two children who are 6 and 7 years old. I find that they are at the perfect age for all Holidays, their enthusiasm and excitement truly makes this time so special. I find myself hanging on to every moment and cherishing the time I have with them.

Farming is a funny profession with the change of seasons. It was not but a month ago I was working everyday from early morning till dark. Putting in long days where I would not see my family and missing those 2 great kids. (Luckly my wife works with some of the days). Now this time of the year  I feel as though my days have nothing in front of them and I can sit back and relax. Its as if somebody turned off the faucet and it all stops. Its a difficult thing to just turn off.  The unfortunate thing is that is not possible in our business. Although my days are not filled with loading pumpkins, planting, weeding and building, I am constantly thinking of the next thing we are going to do. During this time of year I am ordering new apple trees and strawberries for U-pick. Thinking of new ways for us to design the petting farm? What are we going to do to Swans Trail Farms to make it that much better? Its always in the back of my head.

This holiday season we left to my wife’s family in Texas (I know we were not supposed to but…)and when you are in Texas there is a whole lot of nothing going on. Traditionally this drives me nuts, my personality is that I need to get stuff done to the point my Father-in-law will give me a list of things to work on around the house just to keep me busy. The list is normally done within the a day or so and I am back to my restless self. This year however was different, it is as if “the farmer” in me has left for the Holidays and I have decided to just relax and soak up time with my family. I don’t know if it is Covid and just happy to be anywhere but home or its the realization that my kids are not going to be young forever, but I truly feel blessed this Holiday Season.

It is my hope that you all feel blessed this season and you can turn off “the farmer” and enjoy this time with loved ones. Merry Christmas from Swans Trail Farms.

 

The Krause family is a very competitive group. Growing up there was always a board game, basketball game, card game or some type of game where there is a clear winner and loser at the end. Sometimes we shook hands and sometimes not. Our competitive spirt was not limited to games but spilt over into our work. We found out who could dig a hole 2 ft deep the fastest. Which one of us could get the hay bale to the top of the load without losing it. Who could stack the highest load of pumpkins without it falling off on the way to the barn. Whom was the fastest corn picker….(me). The list could go on and on.

As we finish up our fall harvest festival we have time to reflect on our season and see what worked and what did not work. It is a time to plan for next year and see what we can add to make our guests experience better. It is always a challenge to decide what to include because the amount of time it takes to see the effects of what some of the things we decide to implement. When we decide to plant more apple trees for instance it takes a good 5 years before they start to produce. If we decide to plant raspberries to increase our u-pick berry business that is a good 3 years. Adding more strawberries would take 2 years. These are all methodically thought thru and planned very carefully.

Other aspects of decision making are made that can see the impact right away. I think these are where the “Play or the Year” came from and our competitive spirt comes out. Each year we look back and decide what we did that made the biggest impact on the farm and call it “Play of the Year”. It could be something very simple like adding front weights to our tractor to allow us to plow a smoother field which was given 8 years ago.(congratulations Farmer Ben play of the year).This sounds like not a big deal but the amount of tractor time it saved was incredible.  The play could also be adding a new attraction such as the jumping pillows 6 years ago (congratulations to myself for that play of the year). Our employees have also been instrumental in a few plays of the year. Such as Farmer Liz who showed us  how useful a blower can be instead of sweeping for hours upon hours for our orchard weddings (congratulations Liz play of the year). Or Yaher our young employee whom revolutionized the way we cut out the Washington State Corn Maze 10 years ago. These are all things that made life on the farm much easier.

This year as we look back the decision has to be made, what was our Play of the Year?

It was definitely not a normal year. We love this farm and have invested so much into it through the years. Watching families come and spend quality time with each other is the reason we do what we do. I missed all the school field trips, our bakery and having all our fun farm activities available for our guests to enjoy. With the amount of time to get ready this year we did not add anything nor did we change much of anything. Although I love my job and we always have fun working such a unique, challenging career, I am not going to lie the stress level was high though the season. It was about quarter way through the season when I was worried about everything, short with everyone and trying to keep it together that my wise old father Farmer Ben pulled out the play of the year. I was working on something I could not figure out and about ready to literally breakdown when he said four words I really needed and that was “relax and have faith”.  It was not buying a new piece of equipment nor adding some great new activity but it was a state of mind we all needed. So as the season progressed with the facemasks, wet weather and managing all the Covid regulations I just remembered to relax and have faith. Well played Farmer Ben….well played.

This year has truly been a challenge for all of us and pumpkin patches are no exception. About a month ago we here at Swans Trail Farms had no idea if we were going to be able to operate much like many businesses in the state of Washington. It was not until a few days ago we found out that we could have guests out to the farm and the reason this happened was because of community.

Our family was not a “Snohomish Valley Farm Family” which many farms in the Valley date back 5 generations or more. My parents were both teachers and decided one day at the age of 31 and 28 with three kids they were going to be dairy farmers. Those first few years were rough and held many challenges. My dad always said that he could not made it without help from his fellow dairymen in the Snohomish Valley. Dairy farmers are a tight knit community and when you see another farmer suffering you drop everything and help that other guy out. I grew up knowing if a piece of equipment broke or the milk price fell there would be a farm in the Snohomish Valley to lend a hand.

As time went on we had many more tough times in the Dairy Industry and made the difficult decision to sell our cows. It was 1997 and we had a small yet promising pumpkin patch that we felt we could make work. Other then one other farm soon after selling our cows many of our fellow dairy farmers followed suit by selling and starting their own pumpkin patches. Now to date there is a total of 7 pumpkin patches within 15 mins of each other. Many think we would be competitors but we all consider ourselves comrades. The farms in the valley’s attitude never has changed and we are closer now then when we were milking cows.

Prior to the State announcing limitations to our operations we were meeting this summer and developing a plan to open in a safe and secure way. As we have for years we worked together, making sure we had all the right documentation and contacted the right people. We also discussed the safest way to operate during a pandemic; what to cut, what to keep. With the leadership of Linda Neunzig from the Snohomish County Ag Dept. we were able to organize and get the state to change its original decisions.

This would have never happened with just one of us. Although we did not always agree, it took all of us to show the state we can operate together in a safe manner. Just like the dairy days when something tough happens in the Snohomish Valley we rally around each other.

I can’t help to think as the craziness of this world increases and the division gets wider just know that there are still small and large pockets of communities around you working together.

 

Happy Fall!!! Farmer Nate