Text and photos by JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News Staff
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — Jan Eckhart, owner of Sweet Berry Farm, squints against the glare of an unrelenting midday sun as he stands amid his apple trees, which are heavy with fruit.
"It looks pretty good," he said.
In spite of a cold, snowy winter and a dry late summer, Eckhart said he's seeing a good yield of apples this season.
The U.S. Apple Association is estimating a U.S. apple crop of 234.8 million bushels this year.
To an onlooker, the apple trees at Sweet Berry Farm may look different than most. That's because Eckhart plants dwarf apples that, instead of growing up and out, are trained up poles, almost like pole beans.
This technique maximizes yield and makes harvesting more practical. And, since Sweet Berry Farm is primarily a pick-your-own operation — it also sells some of its fruit at a large farm stand on the property — this is good news for apple pickers. Most of the fruit is within reach of an adult of average height.
The system also makes pest management easier. To control blight and pests, Eckhart uses integrated pest management, an environmentally sensitive approach that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.
He also uses technology to track the migration of insects and pathogens so they can be targeted in his pest-management practices.
Eckhart expects the apple season at Sweet Berry Farm will run through the third week of October.