What can you tell me about starting an organic orchard for hard cider production in Minnesota?
Answer: Commercial organic apple production is possible in Minnesota, but it is complicated compared to conventional production and compared to organic production in drier parts of the nation, like Washington state. The ATTRA publication Apples: Organic Production includes a case study of Hoch Orchards and Gardens in LeCrescent, Minnesota. The fact that the Hoch family has successfully produced organic apples in Minnesota should be encouraging to you. Besides this useful case study, this publication includes a host of information that can help you with your decision-making process. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=4.You’ve probably already found the “sudden” nationwide enthusiasm for hard cider encouraging. Of course, there is nothing sudden about it, if you know anything about American history, but there is certainly a resurgence of interest in hard cider production, and the apple industry cannot find enough good cider apples to fuel this interest. But simply finding enough cider apples or enough cider-type apple trees is not the only problem with growing apples for cider. In a nutshell, these old cider varieties are mostly English and French cultivars, and their adaptability to U.S. conditions vary. Some are disease susceptible, most aren’t heavy producers, and many may simply not be adapted to your harsh winters. Foxwhelp, Jamaica Black, Michelin, Bulmer’s Norman, Hyslop Crab, and Chisel Jersey are the names of some of the apple cultivars with the bitterness that distinguish gourmet ciders.At this point in the growth of the apple cider industry, and because of the popularity of artisanal beers, growers seem to be going for “gourmet quality” as established by producers/history in England, France, and New England, and this seems to tie them to these old cultivars. However, as in wine, the finished flavor has as much to do with the making of the cider as it does with the varieties going into that cider. You probably could never make a gourmet-quality cider with just Red Delicious or Gala, but with some experimentation you should be able to get an excellent cider from combining the juice of several good apples in the right proportions. And if some of those apples are old heirloom cultivars with proven adaptability to cold climates, like Fireside, Haralson, and Wolf River, you will be able to use this to your advantage in marketing your final product. These heirloom cultivars evoke romance and nostalgia, and you can definitely take advantage of those traits in marketing.In my opinion, it is more important to get apple cultivars that are adapted to Minnesota, produce in abundance, and have complementary traits for blending into a good stock juice: high sugar content, aromatic, high acids, and some bitterness. You could conceivably get all the bitter component from a crab apple that is adapted to Minnesota. I think that getting varieties that are amenable to organic production in Minnesota (high level of disease resistance) is more important than getting these old cider varieties. Additional Resources: Managing apple scab on ornamental trees and shrubwww.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/managing-apple-scab/Cider business flourisheswww.goodfruit.com/cider-business-flourishes/Cider demand outstrips supplywww.goodfruit.com/cider-demand-outstrips-supply/The hard trials of growing cider appleswww.goodfruit.com/the-hard-trials-of-growing-cider-apples/