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CALLICOON, NY — If the Abandoned Cidery is a great example of “up-cycling” abandoned apple trees, the young orchards of the upcoming Seminary Hill Cidery demonstrate another variety of environmental good stewardship: they are a wonderful example of holistic growing practices.
Located, as the name would suggest, atop the hills behind the current Job Corps building (originally a seminary) presiding over the hamlet of Callicoon, the orchard’s first trees were only planted in 2014. More trees were added in subsequent years, to now total about 1,300. They’re still not quite ready for commercial production, which orchard manager Bill Hess says should begin in 2020.
The orchards are prosperous ecological microcosms where a plethora of organisms including Russian comfrey, daffodils, native wildflowers and pollinators interact to create vibrant ecosystems resistant to pests and diseases almost completely without recourse to artificial chemicals or toxins. The exceptions are latex paint, painted on the trunks to prevent splitting and cracking, and a small amount of dish detergent dissolved in water to a tiny concentration and combined with Neem oil, to deter insect pests and fungus.
But the pests are mostly controlled by ingenious natural mechanisms like daffodils planted around the trunks (repelling voles, which don’t like members of the onion family, to which daffodils belong) and “decoy” plants like roses and clover, which attract Japanese beetles away from the trees. To keep pollinators present, well-fed and breeding on the property, the orchards are mown only a couple of times a year, allowing wildflowers to grow, flower, seed and reproduce for the next year. And the mowing is timed not to interfere with the reproductive cycles of butterflies that may be in the fields.
To help enrich the soil, Russian comfrey is planted around the trees. It’s an extremely deep-rooted plant that, in Hess’s words, “mines up” minerals deep in the soil and makes them available at the surface. This and the other holistic tricks that keep the orchards healthy and toxin-free are largely products of the decision by the owners, Doug and Reuben Doetsch, to retain the help of Michael Philips, an orchard consultant who has written several books including “The Holistic Orchard.”
The cidery building itself has not yet been constructed, though in a late-July interview Hess said groundbreaking was expected to start soon. Not surprisingly, given the environmentally conscious standards by which the orchards are maintained, the building has been designed to meet PassivHaus standards, a designation that exceeds LEED certification. The website says it will combine “a ground-floor production facility with a top-floor tasting room and event space.”
The Doetsch family has owned much of the land that the two orchards are now planted on for generations. In fact, their website says that “during Prohibition in the 1920s, one great-grandfather distilled ‘apple jack’ in a shed on the property—until the day he fell asleep during brewing and the shed burned down.”
Both the cidery and The House @ Seminary Hill, an associated bed and breakfast and wedding/event venue, are part of the Doetsch’s love of their ancestral home and an effort to help the community not only by establishing new businesses, but by respecting the land that makes this such a wonderful place to be. Keep an eye out for more on Seminary Hill over the next couple of years; it looks like it’s going to be something very special.
For more information visit seminary hill.co.