Crazy For Crow Mountain Apples
When Bob Deutscher moved to Jackson County nearly 40 years ago, there were rumors that a crazy man was going to plant an orchard on top of Crow Mountain. Now, some of those same folks are just crazy about his apples.
|Members of the Alabama Farmers Federation toured Crow Mountain Orchard earlier this year during the organization's annual Commodity Producers Conference.|
And there's a lot to be crazy about. Deutscher and his wife, Carol, operate what is believed to be the state's largest fruit orchard with nearly 50 acres of apple trees and 25 more acres of peaches, pears and seedless grapes.
"I guess you could classify us as a large, small farmer," Deutscher said. "During our peak season, we employ about 15 people. My wife and I work here year round and our daughter and son-in-law (Barbara and Chuck Endson) help us during the busy season."
Deutscher moved to Fackler, a community in north Jackson County, in 1974 from northern Indiana. He planted his first trees the next year. It was HOW and WHERE he planted the apple trees that made many of his neighbors skeptical.
Normally, apple trees are planted 35 feet apart, or about 75 trees per acre, he said. Deutscher planted his trees on trellises, spacing them 7 feet apart on 15-foot rows, packing in about 400 trees per acre.
"The trellises are made from three coated wires that run along the trees and keep the limbs closer to the ground," Deutscher said. "We can pick about 90 percent of the fruit from the ground or by using a 6-foot picking ladder. That's saves us quite a bit of time and labor when we pick apples."
The elevation on Crow Mountain is 1,720 feet. The warm days and cool nights at that height provide an ideal growing season for the fruit, Deutscher said.
"During the hot part of the summer, we're usually 6-10 degrees cooler up here than in the valley," he said. "We also chose this elevation because the mountain is a mile wide and has excellent air drainage that keeps frost off us most of the time."
Deutscher's farm was a tour stop during the Alabama Farmers Federation's Commodity Producers Conference in August. Members on the tour were eager to hear how Deutscher started his farm and were equally eager to sample some of his delicious apples and peaches.
Federation Horticulture Director Mac Higginbotham said Deutscher's farm is an inspiration to all farmers who are willing to explore a new way of doing things.
"Bob Deutscher holds a patent on a type of Red Delicious apple called Cumberland Spur," Higginbotham said. "It has outstanding flavor and a deep red color. He gave it that name because it's grown on the Cumberland Plateau (where Crow Mountain is located) and the trees' buds are formed from several spurs on the limb. Securing your own patented variety is a rare opportunity."
In Indiana, Deutscher owned an orchard that focused on the early-season apple varieties. He moved south to get a head start on that same market. Eventually, that market faded, but he had the foresight to plant so many varieties of apples that he has apples ripening five months out of the year. His best sellers are Red Delicious, followed closely by Golden Delicious. He also grows Jonathan, McIntosh, Winesap, Granny Smith, Rome Beauty, Mutsu and his personal favorite, Pink Lady.
"Pink Lady apples ripen in late October and just seem sweeter to me," he said. "I like the flavor, and they have a beautiful, rich pink color. But truthfully, I like all types of apples."
What's his favorite way to eat an apple? "Right off the tree," he said. "They never taste any better than that."
That fresh, delicious taste is what brings customers to Crow Mountain Orchards from hundreds of miles away.
"We have lots of people who drive as far as 200 miles from here in any direction just to buy our apples," Deutscher said. "Our best advertising is word of mouth, and we have lots of customers who have been coming here for years."
Most of the apples and other fruits raised by the Deutschers are sold directly to customers from a retail market store on the farm. It's open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The orchard also provides apples for the state's school lunch program on occasion.
The orchard's website, www.CrowMnt.com, lists what fruits are available and directions to the farm.
For a man who began his career as a brick mason, Deutscher said he finds growing apples to be a much more rewarding job.
"I like planting something and watching it grow into something that's delicious and people enjoy," he said. "It's very satisfying to grow something that tastes so good. When we plant a tree, it becomes like a part of the family."