Follow along each month in Attraction magazine as Sprout takes readers on tours of Mid-Shore farms. They will share stories from the road as they gather fresh produce from area farms. Sprout provides individually portioned, ready-to-eat meals using fresh, local and organic ingredients, delivered directly to a customer and to businesses.
Visiting Blades Orchard in Federalsburg on a recent cool morning promised hints of fall. There was dew on the grass and the apple trees were weighed down by their lovely fruit. It would remain tranquil on the farm until the weekend, when U-Pick season started. At that particular moment, though, these apple novices were happily listening to Steve Blades discuss the ins and outs of apple growing.
When Steve and his wife Lynda purchased the property in 2008, they didn’t know much about running an orchard or growing apples and peaches. But with courage and determination, they’ve become one of the Mid-Shore’s top fruit producers. Hundreds of people travel to the orchard during U-Pick season, and they will not be disappointed.
“You will never get any fresher than picking fruit yourself,” said Steve. As Steve explains some of the processes of apple farming, one appreciates even more the benefits of buying local. Try this one on for size: those Red Delicious apples you just purchased at the grocery store? They were picked last year! As in 2016. Guess what keeps them fresh? G-A-S! Gas keeps apples from aging. That is common practice. Blades Orchard’s apples do just fine in the crisper setting in the fridge and last for weeks and even months. Here is another hint: Steve and his family places apples in a Ziploc® bag for extra freshness.
Blades Orchard truly is a family affair. Steve and Lynda run the day-to-day operations and their daughter Olivia, 12, is always helping out as well. She ran a summer produce stand on the property, called College Fund Produce, with two of her friends. After the intense weeks of the U-Pick season, the Blades will take a week off to regroup, then plunge into the next aspect of orchard tending. In the “quiet” months of winter, one can find Steve out in the orchard, armed with a chainsaw, pruning trees.
Over time, the Blades have introduced new apple varieties as well as cherries and apricots and are always replanting trees to replace older stock. Once the apple seedling goes into the ground, it can double its size in a season and produce fruit within 3 to 5 years. The tree is “defruited” for the first three years so growth goes into a strong stock rather than fruit production.
With 25 varieties of apples, fruit is picked starting in late July through October as each takes more or less time to reach maturity. Fruit from Blades Orchard can be purchased at five farmers’ markets in the state, Graul’s in St. Michaels, Harris Teeter in Easton and Simmons Center Market in Cambridge, and at six roadside stands.
Blades Orchard is more than growing and selling apples. Two years ago, Blades began making hard cider, called Faulkner Branch. There are two currently offered, Head Waters and Tax Ditch Green hard ciders. Be sure to ask Steve and Lynda how they came up with those names when you visit the tasting room, open weekends. The Blades hope that they will have their distillery business off the ground by 2019.
While the orchard is a busy operation for the small family, it made sense to move into the cider and distillery markets with the volume of “seconds” that the orchard generated. Spending months growing on a tree, a certain percentage of apples will undoubtedly have blemishes and aren’t considered suitable for market. These “seconds” are used for cider and other beverages.
“If the apple doesn’t make the grade, it gets turned into cider,” explains Steve. There are five hard cider establishments in Maryland and Faulkner Branch is the only one on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Blades Orchard is open on weekends for U-Pick through October 29, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Take a hayride, sample some hard cider, take a walk through the orchards, children may play in the “living room of hay,” drink fresh pressed cider straight out of the keg, purchase apple butter, honey, preserves, cider donuts, and pick apples such as York, Rome, Cameo, Sun Crisp, Gold Rush, Wine Sap, Stayman, Pink Lady, Arkansas Black and Black Twig. It’s recommended to visit “Blades Orchard” on Facebook to get the weekend’s varieties as apples mature at different times.
For more information, visit bladesorchard.com or visit “Blades Orchard” on Facebook. Blades Orchard is located at 4822 Preston Road in Federalsburg.
Poppy Seed Dressing
~ Compliments of Sprout.
2 cups Plain yogurt from Nice Farms Creamery
1 small finely diced apple from Blades Orchard
1 TBSP Local Eastern Shore Honey
2 TBSP Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TSP Poppy seeds
Optional – add 1 to 2 ounces milk for a thinner dressing.
Mix everything together and enjoy on any salad or as a dip. Sprout uses this dressing with its Autumn Apple, Pecan and Cranberry Salad.
Sprout uses its homemade Poppy Seed Dressing on the Fall Apple, Pecan and Cranberry Salad. The salad contains apples, cranberry, turkey bacon, pecans, feta cheese and mixed greens. All ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible.