Food Adventures with Connie

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Producer Interview: In the Orchard with Tyler Vock

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tyler Vock, Orchard Manager at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard north of Nebraska City, Nebraska to learn more about the operation and get his advice for beginning farmers considering fruit production.

Q1: How many acres is this farm?
A1: 98 total.

Q2: Which crops do you grow here?
A2: We grow apples, cherries, peaches, strawberries, vegetables, pears, plums, pumpkins, and sweet corn.

Q3: What is your main crop and why?
A3: Apples – it’s what we’re known for at Kimmel Orchard. About half of the total acres here are planted in apples.

Q4: You grow multiple apple varieties. Can you share which ones are your favorites?
A4: My favorites are Honeycrisp, Jonathan, and Pink Lady. The Honeycrisp are a sweet apple; they’re definitely the most popular apple that we grow here. I like the Jonathans because they’re tart. And I like the Pink Lady apples because they’re the last apple of the year so that means we’re almost done for the season.

high-density apple trees on a trellis

High-density tall spindle apple trees at        Kimmel Orchard

Q5: I noticed that you have a portion of the orchard trained to a trellis. What are the benefits of this production system?
A5: The trellis system that we’re doing now is a new way to grow apple trees called tall spindle or high-density planting. It’s a good way to boost early production in apple trees and make your money back faster. You plant the trees three-feet apart with twelve foot rows in between. The maximum height these trees will grow is nine to ten feet. What you really want is early fruit production. They start producing in the second year and then by year five you can harvest about a thousand bushels per acre. If you can accomplish that you’ll make your money back a little bit faster and it’s a more profitable system. Plus I think it’s the best way to make sure that all guests, from the first guest in September to the last guest in October, have a chance to get apples. For me, I think that it’s an easier system than the old trees. Pruning in the winter is a lot easier – you can zip right through those lines, not spending a lot of time on one tree. And if you have a person on each side of the row it seems like it goes really fast. It’s a little bit more work to get them started, but if you do it right it’s an awesome system.

Q6: Are there any differences between now and when you started managing the orchard three years ago?
A6: For me it’s the knowledge that comes with it, so things are easier for me now. When I started I was a row crop kid, born and raised in Nebraska City; I liked to work with cattle. So when I started here it was a pretty steep learning curve. You learn something new every day and I feel that once you know what you know everything gets a little easier here. So I would say the confidence in growing everything just within three years of working here.

Q7: So most of what you know about orchard management you learned on-the-job?
A7: Yes, that, and reading a lot of research papers on how to get everything going. For the most part I learned hands-on – that’s the best way to learn, right?

Q8: What has been your greatest challenge as an orchard manager?
A8: Right now it’s managing fire blight in the area. It’s a bacterium that gets into the trees and if you’re not careful with it, it can really start to harm the orchard. So getting that figured out and working with the spray schedule in general to make sure fungi aren’t becoming a problem, and scouting for pests. It’s difficult, but that’s what needs to be done to make high quality fruit.

Q9: Do you have any projects planned that we should keep a lookout for in the future?
A9: We’re growing sweet corn this year, so that’s one thing that’s different. In about five years we will be replanting our eight acres which is the biggest block of trees that we have. We’ll be going from the old production system to all the trees being trained to the tall spindle system. So instead of 26 rows of trees there will be 47 and instead of 1000 trees we’ll have 9100 trees in there. I still get questions all the time from people that we show this tall spindle model to; they can’t believe that you can grow apple trees that close to each other. But once you explain to them the purpose of it, they get it.

Q10: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about fruit production at Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard?
A10: It’s a lot of hard work but at the end of the year when you get to see families come out and spend the day picking… It makes it all worth a full year of work seeing people out here having fun and getting compliments on the quality of fruit. That’s the best thing about working here.

Q11: What advice do you have for young people thinking about going into fruit production?
A11: Just do your research. If you’re going to choose a tall spindle don’t take any shortcuts, put the work in; if you do it right it’s going to be very profitable for you. And it will be pretty fun too. Every year a new development happens so it’s not like a repetitive job; you’re always doing something different. And if you like being outdoors, I’d say go for it.

For more information on high-density apple plantings:

For more information on fire blight:

And for more information on Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard and upcoming events, visit and follow their blog at


4 Ways to Use Fruiting Plants in Your Landscape

Renovating part of your landscape this year? Consider incorporating fruiting plants. They can fulfill many of the functions of ornamental landscape plants with the added benefit of supporting bees and wildlife. Humans will also enjoy eating the following fruits fresh, or processed into juice, jelly, jam, desserts, or wine.

1. Groundcovers

Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) make an excellent groundcover in the landscape, filling in space under trees and shrubs and in flower beds, and are especially useful on slopes to prevent erosion. The plants produce runners and daughter plants that will quickly fill in the space (Fig. 1), covering the ground and choking out weeds. Strawberry cultivars are either ever-bearing/day neutral (bear several crops of fruit throughout the season, but fruit tend to be smaller in size) or June-bearing (bear larger fruit but only for a 2-3 week period in the early summer, which is best if you want volume for processing). If you want the plants to stay put, consider Alpine strawberries (Fragaria x vesca) which don’t send out runners and produce small fruit all summer long.

2. Shrubs

If you’re in the market for a fruiting shrub, there are several options suited to our area including Aronia (Aronia spp.), Currants (Black, Red, and White; Ribes spp.), Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa), Jostaberry (Ribes nidigrolaria), and Serviceberry/Juneberry (Amelanchier spp.; some are small trees). Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus), and Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) can also be used in the landscape, though they will require more management than the other shrubs to keep them contained (Fig. 2) and minimize disease.

3. Vines

Grapevines (Vitis spp.) and hardy kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.) vines (Fig. 3a and 3b) are beautiful trained to grow over a trellis or arbor in the landscape. They can provide shade on a patio or create a living screen between your yard and your neighbor’s property. ‘Issai’ is a hardy kiwifruit cultivar that can produce fruit on a single plant; all other kiwifruit cultivars will require that you have enough space to plant a male for pollination purposes if you want fruit.

4. Shade trees

Many fruit trees are available to provide shade in the landscape. Small trees (less than 30 feet tall) are often preferred by homeowners and include Black cherry/Rum cherry (Prunus serotina), Chokecherry (P. virginiana), Cornelian cherry/Dogwood (Cornus mas), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), and American (wild) plum (P. americana). Mulberry (Morus spp.) and Persimmon (Diospyros spp.) are taller trees that also work in the landscape.

As with many ornamental landscape plants, fruiting plants in the landscape may require watering, pruning, fertilizing, or pest management, but the effort required is a small price to pay for the many benefits listed above. And the satisfaction that comes from growing your own fresh fruit is priceless!

For more information:

Edible Woody Landscapes for People and Wildlife,

Edible Landscapes, Seed Edible Landscapes 2010.pdf

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