Around 1900, the first orchardists began planting apples in the lower Methow Valley. The growing season was shorter than that of the main Columbia River apple region, the nights cooler, and the apples were smaller but exceptionally crisp and known in the industry as "good keepers". Methow apples could make the journey to the East Coast markets in better condition than apples grown elsewhere in the State, and commanded a higher price which offset lower yields. During the 1960’s controlled atmosphere storage was introduced to the apple industry, and the Methow Valley orchardists no longer had a competitive advantage. A severe freeze in the late 1960’s ended commercial apple production above Twisp, and only a few commercial orchards remained above Gold Creek.
In 2001, our family purchased one of the last remaining commercial orchards between Twisp and Carlton. The farm had been subdivided, most of the apple trees had been removed and the outbuildings were near collapse. We weren’t farmers (and still aren’t, if you ask someone who has been at it their whole life) but we decided to try and bring the orchard back from the brink. We had our first cider pressing that fall.
In 2004 we traveled to the apple growing regions of Northern Italy. The farms there are small and ancient by American standards – many had been held by the same families since before Columbus sailed to the New World. The Italian orchardists had converted to a trellis system with dwarf trees in the 1960’s, at the same time the Methow orchards were being abandoned. Dwarf trees on a trellis are not as picturesque as the older, traditional rootstocks, but make better use of space and light, and are far easier to prune, thin and harvest.
We returned to our farm and began converting the orchard to a trellis system. The apple variety we chose was Honeycrisp, a University of Minnesota cultivar that prefers a cooler climate, and with the minus 20 nights of January in mind, the Honeycrisp was grafted to a dwarf Siberian rootstock. We retained a number of the older red and golden delicious trees specifically for blending, and just because we liked the big trees.
Even with 8,000 new trees, our orchard remains small by Eastern Washington standards. Our orchard was certified organic in 2005, and our first commercial harvest was in 2006. We continue with new plantings, and look forward to experimenting with heritage varieties in coming years.