For the first time since Mountain Sun Juice closed its Dolores doors 14 years ago, local apple juice shipped out of Montezuma County in October, 2016. Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project produced and sold 2,200 gallons of Montezuma Valley Heritage Blend raw apple juice to hard cider makers in Denver, Boulder and Cortez. MORP used proceeds to purchase local heirloom apples, engage Montana’s NW Mobile Juicing, lease cold storage and processing facilities, ship juice and coordinate the project. Funded in part by a recently awarded USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant, MORP undertook this project to evaluate whether mobile juicing can help fruit growers reach juice markets. With the preponderance of juice apples in our orchards, market opportunity exists not only for hard cider, but for our fresh juice as well. Wouldn’t it be great if local apple juice could again be available in our own community?
We learned some valuable lessons in piloting this project. One of the most surprising was that health and juice regulations would not allow juice pressed on a mobile processor to be sold wholesale or retail, even when pasteurized. So we turned our efforts to press juice for hard cider which is exempt from regulations as fermentation effectively kills pathogens.
In order for Ryal Schallenberger of Montana’s Northwest Mobile Juicing to bring his mobile juice press to Montezuma County, MORP needed to guarantee we would have 800 bushels of apples to press. Knowing there was a bumper crop on the trees, and that one orchard alone could produce 800 bushels, we said sure; and when Ryal set a date in mid-October, a 12-day crash-course on juice manufacturing ensued.
MORP set a goal to pick 100 bushels a day. After our first day yielded 20 bushels, albeit with only three pickers, we got nervous. MORP put out a call to pay fruit-growers for picked and delivered apples, volunteer picking crews were organized and seven orchard owners opened their gates to mostly complete strangers. Over the course of eight days, 32 volunteers and four orchard owners picked, shook, and packed 32,000 pounds of apples. Over and over we heard old-timers recount, “on a good day, so-and-so could hand-pick 100 bushels”. We were humbled by our fruit-growing pioneers.
Picking apples was one thing. What about selling juice? How would we price juice in a market ranging from $1.50 to $9.00/gallon? Where exactly does one put 800 bushels of apples and how do they get there? Furthermore, how do we move a tote of juice weighing 2,600 pounds, and how do we get six of them to Denver? Thanks to years of getting to know old orchards, their people, and folks in the cider business, we knew who to ask. The juice sold out, and box-by-box, MORP purchased and borrowed wooden fruit crates, 20-bushel bins and milk crates. We borrowed trucks, trailers, barns, rented a loader and leased a forklift, tractor, warehouse and cold storage from Russell Vineyards to finish the job. Well, almost. There was still that question of getting 10,400 pounds of juice to Denver, after numerous unsuccessful attempts at sourcing a refrigerated truck. But as luck would have it, Lang Livestock had just purchased a truck from our friends at Geisinger Feed. They shipped the juice on an open-air flatbed at night to keep it cool. How happy we were envisioning a 75’ Kenworth semi delivering Montezuma Valley Heritage Blend apple juice in downtown Denver early the next morning. Next time, we envision the truck being full.
MORP is grateful for everyone’s generosity and confidence, and the true community effort it took to accomplish this project. Let us do it again!
Completed Needs Assessment to study feasibility of MORP purchasing a mobile press for use in our heritage orchards:
34 unknown cultivar matches to other samples – likely named cultivars not in ARS dataset
103 unique unknown cultivars – some are likely seedlings. However, MORP took care to collect from grafted – not seedling trees – so many of these unique unknowns are also likely named historic cultivars not listed in the ARS dataset
195 cultivars in total out of 489 MORP samples
Testing made possible by a 2015 Colorado USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant award to MORP
Preservation through Documentation: MORP maps historic orchards using GIS methods backed up by old fashioned, hand drawn grid maps. In addition to old trees we map associated historical features such as homestead houses and cellars, and tools of the trade like presses, boxes, and ladders. Ideally, even before mapping work begins, MORP creates an orchard narrative to include contact information, general condition of the orchard, and most importantly interview notes with the orchard owner capturing as much historical information connected to the orchard site as possible. Memories of orchard owners and their families have become as important to us as the rare genetics; together they create a powerful story. All this information is collected on paper and entered into the MORP Orchard Database along with GPS points, field notes, historical research, and photographs. We automatically back up our work on external drives several times a day.
MORP’s Tools of the Trade: FileMaker Platform ~ This is a powerful software for creating custom databases and apps that work seamlessly across iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac, and the Web. MORP currently has an individual FileMaker Pro license, and wonders if a Team Cloud option might be a good choice to best collaborate and share information with fellow fruit explorer groups. MORP uses Filemaker to manage several databases such as the MORP Orchard Database as described above, and our Old Colorado Apples Database where we collect information on all varieties historically grown in Colorado to include their current status of lost, endangered, rare, or common; and whether they are available, and if so, where. We also manage and organize our photos using FileMaker. We use a unique 7 digit identifier beginning with three unique letter combinations to connect all data from each individual orchard to it’s associated record/orchard number. On our mobile devices we use FileMaker Go app to collect information in the field.
Arrow 100 Subfoot GNSS ~ MORP recently switched from using an outdated, professional grade, handheld GPS unit to using a high accuracy GNSS receiver with iPhone as the collection device . Although our old unit worked fine, the software to go along with it was no longer supported. Also, we are able to get back to source tree with ease and accuracy using this new workflow; before, we often had to refer to our hand drawn maps to best get back to point.
From our research, mobile device paired via bluetooth with GNSS is the trend now that high accuracy, real time, world wide receivers have become affordable; and applications on mobile device now can keep your collection software from becoming outdated. Esri Collector app on mobile device is used to upload maps on mobile to collect your data in the field such as feature ID, coordinates, field notes, and photos. In order to use Esri Collector you need to have an Esri Online account and possibly ArcGIS Desktop to customize your data collection field attributes, create maps, and manage and analyze data; ArcDesktop is the foundation application for our GIS work. If you are a Mac user you will need to install Parallels or similar software to run ArcDesktop on Mac. If you are a non-profit an annual license for ArcGIS is very affordable. Multiple users can be added which might be something for fellow fruit explorer groups to consider to best collaborate and share information. MORP is still deep in the data collection phase, but it is on our minds how to best share this information (with permission from orchard owners) with both the public and fellow fruit explorers . The fine details of data management and information sharing will need to be worked out, but let the conversation begin!
Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) presents two annual events where you may purchase heritage apple trees. Mark your calendars for the annual Heritage Apple Tree Sale on the third SAT in June, and the annual Orchard Social and Harvest Festival on the second SAT in October. In between events, you may schedule a special visit to the MORP nursery when you buy 10 trees or more.
Choose rare apple varieties hand-grafted by MORP. Proceeds benefit the establishment of school, community, and public orchards by growing and donating these rare genetics across Colorado, made possible by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Award. Contact us if you think your organization may qualify for donated trees. The orchard site must be a public or community space with good wildlife fence, water, and labor to care for the trees. So far this year, tree sales have raised over $17,000 towards MORP’s orchard and “re-orcharding” program! Lucky for the general public, hundreds of trees remain to choose from. See here for our current availability list. Please note that donated trees are selected from a separate list.
Trees are $50. Did you know that MORP members receive $10 off each heritage tree purchased, qualify for an additional bulk tree discount (buy 30 or more trees and get $20 off each tree), and receive special member-only invites to tree sales? Not a member yet?Become one todayWe thank you.
Directions to the MORP nursery are 17312 RD G, Cortez CO 81321. From the highway 491 turnoff just south of Cortez drive west for 7.5 miles on county road G (McElmo Canyon road). Nursery is on the south or Ute Mountain side of the road. The turn-around is a three point turn for standard sized vehicles. By appointment only. Minimum 10 tree purchase.
Thank you for sharing our passion for growing heritage trees. We hand-graft each tree for you in order to spread these rare and historic genetics across Montezuma County and beyond. Our annual tree sales are also a source of revenue to help support our non-profit efforts to keep Montezuma County “Orchard Country”. We thank you.
We guarantee that our trees are healthy at the time of purchase. We further guarantee that trees are living things and that there are many ways to kill them. We gladly offer feedback and advice, but not refunds or replacements.
If you have any unresolved concerns when selecting a tree do not buy it. Please “talk tree care” with us anytime before or after your purchase. Your success is important to us.
Even if planting a tree or an orchard is often an act of perseverance, in our county alone, we still find growing – thousands of trees 100 years or older. So, please plant a tree today for our future, and in honor of the hard work of our early fruit-growing pioneers!
MORP PLANTING ADVICE:
Trees are happiest in the ground, not in a pot, so plant immediately for best success.
Select a site with good soil drainage and good air flow. Avoid cold sinks.
Space standard apple trees 25-30 feet apart; dwarf 15 feet apart.
Dig hole 2-3 times wider than the rootball and just deep enough to allow graft union to be several inches above soil line to keep traits of rootstock. In the case of seedling rootstock you may bury graft. Old timers did so for a stronger tree.
Do not add hot compost, manure, or fertilizer to planting hole. Back fill with native soil mixed with one third composted compost or quality potting soil. Water in and tap down air pockets. Mulch with 1-2” of compost per year; do not over do it.
Protect your tree from deer, rodents, and other mechanical damage. Good fence is essential. Paint lower south trunk with plain white latex paint diluted with water to protect from sun scald. If you use tree stakes, trunk guards, limb spacers, ID tags, etc., reposition EVERY year.
Proper watering is key; not too much and not too little; just the right amount at just the right time. Easy to say, but takes experience to learn as the answer depends on the weather and site conditions, age and condition of tree, season and dormancy, and other factors. Rule of thumb: water slowly and deeply to get water down and out into soil profile. Repeat process when just the top of the soil just begins to dry. Flood or drip irrigation is best; sprinklers cause disease and sunburn, and often do not water deep enough. Water deeply and frequently to get a tree established; even during dry winter months; very hard to water too much in heat of the summer!