Apple Orchards – Right and Wrong

Carpenter Nature Center practices integrated pest management, which is labor intensive but reduces the use of chemicals.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and apple-picking is no exception. Two weekends ago, our family headed over to one of my favorite local orchards, Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake, in search of apple donuts, hay rides and a corn maze. Twenty minutes, one wasp sting and a crying baby later, we ended our short excursion with a trip to the doctor’s office and a shot of Benadryl. Needless to say, that was the wrong way to visit an apple orchard. As luck would have it, I got a second chance at apple delight this week when I toured the orchard and trails at Carpenter Nature Center in Denmark Township with staff from the Washington Conservation District. This time, we did it the right way.

Upon arrival, Carpenter’s horticulturalist, John McPherson, greeted us outside the apple shack where a group of kindergarteners were seated on the ground squirming with anticipation as they waited to taste hand-pressed cider. As he walked us through the building and then outside to neatly planted rows of trees, he explained a concept called integrated pest management, which the nature center employs to reduce their need for insecticides and fungicides. It is a comprehensive strategy that includes the use of non-chemical insect traps, careful attention to weather patterns, disease emergence and insect life cycles, and lots of manual labor. “Lots of growers practice IPM to some degree,” McPherson explained, “but we’re doing it to a lot greater extent that most of our neighbors.”

Master Gardeners helped the nature center to build a water garden next to the interpretive center.

Since it was first opened in 1981, Carpenter Nature Center has placed a priority on protecting and restoring native habitats on the land once owned by the Carpenter family, as well as introducing children and families to the wonders of nature. The nature center’s relationship with Washington Conservation District goes back many years as well, and the Conservation District has provided technical expertise and grant funding for several of Carpenter’s conservation projects.  When expanding the interpretive center seven years ago, Carpenter worked with district staff to design and install a raingarden to collect runoff from the building’s rooftop. A few years later, they worked with local Master Gardeners to build a water garden on the other side of the building. “The Carpenters loved gardens,” explained program director Mayme Johnson. By building the raingarden and water garden the nature center has found a way to honor the family’s legacy while also protecting the St. Croix River.

After touring the apple orchard, our staff hiked down the bluff to get an up close view of the St. Croix River. We were treated to magnificent views from the newly built pavilion as well as from an observation platform situated at the top of a large ravine. Many years ago, the nature center and the Conservation District worked together to reduce erosion on this and other ravines on the property, another blessing for the river. Amidst falling leaves and autumn colors, we continued down the path to the old railroad corridor where we stopped to admire and enjoy an esoteric discussion about the exposed bedrock in cliffs along the trail. With grant support from the Washington Conservation District via Minnesota Department of Natural Resources funds, Carpenter staff has been able to remove invasive buckthorn that once choked this riverside path.

Conservation District staff smile down from a lookout at the head of the ravine trail.

Before leaving to return to the office, our group stopped back at the apple shack to buy apples and cider to bring home with us. Unlike other nearby orchards, Carpenter Nature Center has neither donuts to eat nor farm animals to pet. On the upside, however, we enjoyed stunning fall colors during our visit, an invigorating hike up the bluff, and a breathtaking view of the scenic St. Croix River. Best of all, no one got stung.

To learn more about the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center, visit Apple Fest is scheduled for October 13 and 14, during which there will be hay rides and live animals in addition to apples and river views.