Lapsley Orchard

Part I

Traveling along Route 169 in Pomfret just over the Brooklyn town line one cannot help but appreciate the beautifully spaced groves of apple trees. Full sun flooding flat, expansive terrain, old stone walls and fertile farm land. Lapsley Orchard with its armies of trees in formation is a rustic link to the rich agricultural history in northeastern Connecticut.

Lapsley is more than a century old conceived on land originally part of the Israel Putnam estate. Today, a memorial plaque with a historic summary engraved into it sets in a bolder on the west side of route 169 across from the main house on orchard grounds.

John Wolchesky who operates Lapsley today embodies the courageous spirit of a quiet, congenial farmer. As a child his family grew large gardens. The love of growing, the seminal connection of land to life was imbued into him at an early age, the joy of it clearly alive in him to present day. He worked for a number of years learning the myriad complexities of properly caring for fruit trees at Seely-Brown Orchard in Pomfret which no longer exists. His passion turned professional when in 1984 Mr. Wolchesky initiated rental of the orchard from Tim Coville, a direct descendant of Lapsley heritage. The Wolcheskys celebrated their 30th anniversary at Lapsley's in 2014.

In 1984 the orchard had yet been planted exclusively in apples. Through the years John has expanded and diversified plantings into a cornucopia of both fruits and vegetables. Of the 200 acres 25 are now in fruit trees, 25 in vegetable plots, 50 acres are hayed, fully half is wooded. Apples are still king crop. Thirty-two different varieties can be found here. Among the earliest producers is Paula Red which is crisp and sweet, unusual for an early-season apple. Generally, the rule of green thumb is that greater sweetness is achieved as cooler autumnal temperatures engender a greater accumulation of sugars in the pome. In the kingdom of plants, however, for every rule there is the fascinating exception.

Macoun is a very juicy, crisp and sweet mid-season apple, the texture not at all mealy. Growing in popularity is a relative new-comer, Honeycrisp. With cold temperatures and long season allowing sugars to concentrate the late season stars are Fuji and Braeburn. Two heirloom cultivars of note are Winesap and Baldwin, both great for baking into pies, preserves and apple sauces. For that winter treat the best keeper for storage is Empire. Apple-picking season runs from August through November. With so many different varieties that can't be found at the box grocer might not there be something special patiently awaiting your adventurous palette?

Spring finds John and his shoestring staff seeding trays in the two heated greenhouses. Here, for the vegetables, the magic of life begins. Some flats are under automatically timed watering. But many because of seedling size and cultural need require careful hand-watering. Weeding is a methodical, repetitive and necessary task.

In summer waves of vegetables continue to be raised and planted, many with seed sown directly into furrowed rows providing successive crops into the late season. Mowing the grounds is accomplished regularly. Thinning developing fruits on peaches and some apples though slow and time consuming is mandatory. Doing so allows the remaining fruits to bulk up in size; failing to perform this tedium compromises the fruits' quality and sell-ability.

Come August John personally tests peaches daily until they are tree-ripened. These are harvested at the perfect time for juicy, sweet eating and rushed to the farm stand for sale. This contrasts with supermarket peaches which are picked when hard as rocks for shipping purposes and must set and set and set until they hopefully ripen to edibility, the time between often compromising taste and quality. Late August-ripening Belair is popular. Extending the season is delicious mid-September Alberta. A favorite nectarine is Fantasia. Three delicious pears with desert quality characteristics are well-known Moonglow, Bartlett and Bosc.

Late summer and autumn brings a magnified harvest. 'Tis the season for opulent bounty. Winter's focus is on pruning, brush clean-up plus building and machinery maintenance. There is work in every season, winter being the quietest. A forty-hour workweek with Sundays off is enjoyed at the cold nadir of each year with increasing hours as spring warms and the complexity of tasks multiplies.

The work is daunting and a love for it is basic. Any farmer will tell you that a strong work ethic tied to understanding windows of opportunity couched in annual circadian rhythms is fundamental to successful enterprise. For John, a natural born farmer, this is instinctive. And never happy with the status quo his passion for the work is further demonstrated in constant experimentation with new varieties of fruits, berries and vegetables.

Part II

Recently John Wolchesky has implemented a successful Cost Sharing Agriculture (CSA) program. Customers purchase a $25 per week share of produce over an eight week stretch. Available goods are hand-selected and boxed for pick up. Disliking the the usual paid-up-front rigid model John allows customers to "pay as you go" each week. CSA is a great way for consumers to acquire the best of the season at the moment produce peaks. It also allows for the joy of surprise in sampling fruits and vegetables which may be new to to unaccustomed palettes.

The Lapsley panoply of offerings is extensive. Vegetables - both hidden, plumping in cool soils and those dangling from sun-drenched stems are here in varietal rainbow abundance. Root crops include beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips. Sampling the wealth you will find twenty-two tomato varieties including heirlooms such as Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Amana Orange. Fifteen different autumn squashes enrich the late season. You may opt for fresh asparagus or ten varieties of colorful hot peppers. John raises six hundred pounds of garlic annually. Corn is of personal pride - large ears filled with fresh, sun-infused sweetness are densely packed with succulent kernels, picked at perfect ripeness.

Greens consist of colorful chards, kales, spinach and nutritious micro greens, the mix containing Asian green mustards, mitzuma and bok-choy. Peas, six different bean cultivars plus red and savoy cabbages abound. Herbs which are grown adjacent to the farm stand are cut to order. These include basils, flat-leaf parsley, oregano and sage.

Berry crops include raspberries, blueberries and specialty blackberries, the latter a big hit with customers. Husked tomatillos for green salsas and Mexican fare are a rare summer treat. Fingerling and new potatoes are garden-fresh. Newly dug potatoes taste richly of the sweet earth, filled with a palette pleasing nutty quality when sugars are at their height. Supermarket potatoes have languished; by time of purchase sugars have degraded into starch. Try farm garden-fresh potatoes; the taste is a revelation.

And there are the rustic pumpkins, emblematic and essential in a New England autumn. Eight Jack-O-Lantern varieties include white and blue. There are four kinds of sugar pumpkins, the French heirlooms for eating.

Expanding and mixing the numbers and kinds of crops engenders beneficial insect populations. A broader mix of plant species also draws an array of pollinators. Native bees especially bumblebees whose importance is under-rated in favor of honeybees are fundamental for production. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods are assiduously employed at Lapsley Orchard with non-chemical controls the go-to preference. This not only protects the quality of produce but also stays the execution of insects which are friends to farmers. Vibrant plants and insect populations draw numerous species of song birds, many of these prey on savaging insects.

Monitoring for destructive insect pests continues throughout the growing season. Appropriately placed insect traps are erected. Vigilance is key. Phermones attract and trap marauders. Increasing numbers of trapped individuals signal which pests are active. When natural insect controls fall short interventions are mandatory. Dormant oil sprays are applied when trees are not in active growth. Light oil sprays are utilized only when needed after trees cloak themselves with foliage. Cleanliness is greatly important in all seasons as many insects, larva and eggs will blanket themselves in the duff which collects under woody plants. John tells inquirers that when you destroy insect eggs you sidestep having to spray voracious larva with noxious poisons.

All crops sold at Lapsley Orchard are grown on site. No produce is purchased elsewhere, brought in and resold under the Lapsley banner. This is a matter of pride and integrity for Mr. Wolchesky. The only plants which are purchased as plugs are the annual display of cutting flowers lining the eastern stone wall on Orchard Hill Road. But even some of these are raised from seed on orchard grounds.

Columbus Day weekend comes a harvest party. The annual Open House draws many participants. Observe the process of cider making - they own their own press. Live music is provided. Participate in apple and pumpkin picking, great family fun. Horse-drawn hayrides offer glimpses and views not usually seen by the public.

If you are interested in partaking of Lapsley's CSA you may contact these fine folks at (860) 928-9186 or through Facebook. Their opening day for the 2015 season has probably just debuted within the past week. Check Facebook. From mid-July they are open daily from 10 in the morning 'til 6 pm through Christmas Eve. This worthy farm with extensive roots trailing into our rich past is a great place to buy the best of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Preserve our heritage while enhancing your health with delicious locally grown produce! Visit Lapsley Orchard at 403 Orchard Hill Rd in Pomfret Center. The friendly staff awaits you with smiles.

penned by Wayne Paquette December 14, 2014