Charles Chase Orchards: A Look Inside a West Michigan Farm
by Kelley Chase, Michigan GROWN, Michigan GREAT Ambassador
My family’s farm, Charles Chase Orchards, has been growing fruit since 1957. Owned by my grandma, Kay Chase, and operated by my dad and uncle, David and Pat Chase, we grow four varieties of plums and seven varieties of apples, including Honeycrisp, Evercrisp, Red and Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Jonathan, and Gala. Located in Sparta, we are in the heart of the “Fruit Ridge.” Like many other growers in our area, we work hard to grow healthy, delicious fruit for you to enjoy!
Our farm began in 1957 when my great grandpa bought the orchard. The following year he sold it to my grandpa, Charles. All three of my great grandpa’s sons established orchards and have been growing fruit for decades. You could almost say it’s in our blood! My dad and uncle grew up on the farm and took over operations after my grandpa passed. You can find them on the farm almost every day. While it is technically a hobby orchard to them, there are numerous tasks that must be done throughout the year to ensure a bountiful harvest!
In the spring, we plant all our new trees. After we plant the trees, a trellis system is installed to help hold up the trees. The trees need this extra support as their roots grow to keep them from tipping over and growing crooked. We won’t harvest from a newly planted tree for at least three years! We want the tree to fill in the space we’ve given it by the end of the third year. We also rent bees in the spring. Beekeepers will bring bee boxes into orchards for a few weeks out of the year so that they can pollinate the orchards. This allows us to have our trees pollinated without having to care for the bees for the entirety of the year.
Another important task we have is pest and disease prevention. Healthy trees grow healthy, quality fruit, so we do our best to care for the trees. A common disease in the springtime is apple scab. Apple scab creates unappealing black spots on apples. Another common disease is fire blight, which can kill the tree! We watch the forecast closely for conditions that lead to those diseases, so we are only applying protection when necessary. Pests such as codling moth, aphids, and leafrollers can also cause severe damage. But pests don’t come in just insect form! Rabbits and deer also love apple and plum trees. We must carefully monitor our orchards for signs of pests and treat as necessary.
Our harvest begins in August with plums. By the end of August, we begin harvesting our apples. We usually are picking until mid-October; however, it can vary based upon how much fruit is on our trees. A late spring frost while the trees are in blossom as well as disease and pest pressure can result in smaller yields. We utilize the H2A program, which helps growers find employees to harvest their crops. Many of the employees in the H2A programs are migrants. H2A ensures that the employees have the proper paperwork and creates a contract so that expectations are clearly stated and enforced between growers and the employees. While this program is expensive, it helps us, and many other growers, ensure that we will have enough workers throughout the entire harvest season.
Our plums are sold to local farm markets throughout the state. We sell our apples wholesale, which means either a packaging facility or a processing facility will buy the fruit. A processing facility makes the apples into other products, like pies, applesauce, and juice. A packaging facility will clean, sort, and package the fruit to be sold in grocery stores. Keep a look out for Michigan apples in your grocery store, and they just might be ours!
We are lucky to have our farm centrally located on the Ridge. We enjoy the beautiful views in the springtime of orchards full of blooms and have fresh fruit right in our backyard in the fall. I hope you enjoyed this look inside our farm!
Kelley Chase is a 2022 Michigan Grown Michigan Great Ambassador. She is a sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Education with minors in Horticulture and Biology. Kelley grew up on the Ridge and it is her favorite place to be!