Schnieber’s orchard has nice, fruitful legacy in N.J.

AFP Correspondent

BELVIDERE — The dozen or so sweet and sour cherry trees, tucked among rows of 589 apple trees, 300 peach trees, 50 pear trees and a dozen of several types of plums, including sugar plums and several European plum varieties, have all been picked.
Cherries herald the beginning of the pick-your-own season at Stoneyfield Orchard, established by Harry Schnieber in 1947.
He farmed until his death at age 96, in March 2010.
Stoneyfield Orchard — and Schnieber — were true community assets.
Schnieber taught vocational agriculture at the local high school for four decades, in addition to farming. Schnieber’s legacy was rooted in his orchard, and in his role in making agriculture come alive for Belvidere High School students.
Today, his hard work and dedication live on under the ownership of Jeff and Katherine Kolibas and family, who purchased the 35-acre farm, seven of which contain the orchard.
The Kolibas family continue to operate the orchard on a casual, no-fuss, pick-your-own basis.
Customers drive down the dirt roads into the orchard, find a tree, climb a ladder and fill their baskets with whatever is in season at the moment.
The low-key atmosphere — no activities like hay rides or petting zoos — attracts a quieter crowd, and keeps the focus on the fruit.
Visitors are welcomed to pet the family’s rabbits, chase the chickens, and gawk at the handful of cows grazing in the farm’s pastures, just like any child visiting grandpa’s farm would.
The customers, many of whom have been coming here for years, according to Katherine and Jeff, are grateful that the orchard has been continued to be a quiet, fruitful sanctuary.
The couple has had mostly positive interactions with customers, who seem to respect the orchard, Katherine said.
She believes this is due to their focus on remaining a small, intimate family farm, one where nature — not entertainment — takes center stage.
Without any orchard experience, Jeff and Katherine, along with their daughter and Jeff’s father, set out to learn as much as possible — as quickly as possible- about pruning, harvesting, disease protection, fruit storage and more.
Rutger’s Cooperative Extension was an invaluable resource, and the IPM program in particular has been extremely helpful.
“There are a lot of resources available to somebody who wants to take over an orchard,” Katherine said.
Using the Rutgers IPM program allowed these new farmers to produce a quality crop of tree fruit.
The program’s scouts set up traps, took samples and determined what chemical interventions to take, inclduing how much product to use and when to use it.
During their first season, a nearby farmer applied any needed chemical inputs.
While they plan to continue on with the IPM program, they also are learning to identify issues on their own.
This past season, fungal disease were a major concern, due to prolonged periods of wet weather
The couple is concerned about excessive chemical use, and while they realize that going organic is not realistic for commercial production of tree fruit grown in the northwestern New Jersey climate, they do want to minimize the use of chemicals.
The IPM program appeals to them because it operates by recommending “the minimal stuff to control everything,” Jeff said, not only saving money, but limiting any environmental impact.
“It isn’t just the cost of the chemicals,” Katherine said of chemical applications. “We don’t want to overdo it.”
Although some corrective pruning was necessary, as Schnieber was unable to attend to his orchard as meticulously as usual during his last years, the orchard’s trees — some of which are original — have remained healthy and productive.
Almost all of the orchard’s trees are standard sized, but pruned to a lower height than typical.
Apple production is targeted at about 850 bushels per season.
Apple varieties here include many heritage apples, along with newer varieties.
Some of the less common varieties include Gravenstein, Baldwin, Cox Orange Pippin, Northern Spy and Spitzenberg.
Others, such as Ida Red, Jonathan, Winesap, McCoun, Granny Smith, Empire and more, make this a diverse orchard, with 29 apple varieties.
The couple has planted some new trees themselves, filling in gaps in the fields.
They have opted not to go with the trend towards dwarfing rootstock, or intensive planting.
They prefer — and their pick-your-own customers prefer — the larger tree canopy, and the experience of a old-fashioned style orchard.
Needing the orchard to be manageable by two or three people means that expansion of the orchard isn’t an option.
The Kolibas family runs a small on-farm store year-round.
Apples are sold from cold storage units on the farm, along with local honey, maple syrup, eggs, cider, jam and more.
They carry a selection of vegetables in the winter, and in-season local produce, much of which is grown in their garden on the farm.
People appreciate the fact that we are just family-run...that little, roadside, quiet thing,” Katherine said. “People appreciating what we have here, and getting to talk to them, is what we enjoy most.”
Becoming a part of the community by acquiring an established orchard with little notice and no experience may not be the best way for new farmers to start out.
While it has been extremely daunting, it has been positive and rewarding as well.
Having the desire to do the hard work associated with farming is a pre-requisite.
The Kolibas family — who pruned the orchard themselves this past winter, putting into practice the techniques they studied — has passed the test, and the legacy of Schnieber, and his Stoneyfield Orchard, continues.