Indiana Orchard & Farm

To set the stage, Huber's Orchard & Winery is located near Borden, Indiana, 14 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky. The farm produces fruit on 300 acres, vegetables on 200 acres and trees on 100 acres.

By Ed Bulcher, Growers District Manager, Jim Halbeisen and Jennie Henry

Greg Huber was interviewed in the fall of 2004 by his District Manager Ed Bulcher and Growers' Jim Halbeisen.

hubercomplex.jpgTo set the stage, Huber's Orchard & Winery is located near Borden, Indiana, 14 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky.  The farm produces fruit on 300 acres, vegetables on 200 acres and trees on 100 acres.  They sell their produce at their retail farm market and winery. They produce beautiful custom gift baskets and boxes filled with their wines, fruit, cheese, jellies, and preserves.  The market is really an entertainment complex.  It has an ice cream factory, a cheese and gift shoppe, bakery, an animal petting zoo with pony rides and a picnic area.  They also put on parties and weddings in their Plantation Hall which seats up to 1,000 people.

Greg is in charge of all production on the farm.  He began using and experimenting with GNS in the spring of 2000.

Jim Halbeisen's first question for Greg, "What do you feel is the single most important effect of Growers on your operation?"  Greg immediately replied, "As far as our fruits and vegetables are concerned, it has been the shelf life.  It has really improved, whether it is strawberries or any of our vegetables.  For instance, the pumpkins have a big deep wall.  We start to pick the first of October and continue till Halloween.  Meanwhile, they sit on the ground or in the market and  they need to be able to hold and not wither away.

huberorchard.jpg"We've found that the Growers Program has helped out a lot on pumpkins.  Last year was the first year I used Growers on them and we had the best crop we've ever had.  And at this point this year, they look as good or better than last, but the money is not in the bank yet, so we'll see what happens."

Greg continued, "We started using the Growers product after I went to a meeting Ed put on where he talked a lot about liming the ground.  I had had experience with liming some pumpkins before when we were having a problem with what they call 'pumpkin pox'.  We couldn't get rid of it after spending four or five years trying everything we could think of -- ie, maybe our sprayer wasn't working right, etc., etc.

"Actually we stumbled on the answer.  We have always put about 20 tons of lime per acre on a field before we plant a new orchard, because it's a long-term deal.  One year we had already put the lime on, but we decided not to plant the new orchard, instead, we planted it to pumpkins.  That cured our pumpkin pox problem, so we knew it had something to do with the lime."  Gesturing towards Ed Bulcher, Greg concluded, "And then when I went to your meeting and heard you talk about lime, 'Get your calcium right, and then use our product, Growers, to supplement it with the micro nutrients.'  That triggered something, 'Hey these guys might actually know what they are talking about.  They were talking about the lime and I had some first hand experience with that.'"

"Is it standard procedure for you to apply 20 tons of lime per acre to prepare for orchards?"  Jim asked.  Greg replied, "Oh yes, there's fruit been grown on this farm for....well I'm the sixth generation.  Dad, and my grandpa before him, always put 20 tons on before he planted because the orchards will be there for 20 or 30 years.  They had some good practices back then, but ideas changed over time, and we changed with them.  Then we saw a downfall in all of our produce.  Shelf life was the worst.  We couldn't keep it on the shelf."       

"So after you heard Ed the first time, what was your starting point using Growers?"  questioned Jim.  "We were real conservative," answered Greg.  "We are retail and we don't want to just go out on a limb just over night.  So we tried it on a trial basis.  We had some success with it, but it took about three years and by now we're pretty much one hundred percent switched over."

"How did you start first?"  asked Jim.  "We started with light rates." replied Greg.  "The first thing that Ed talked about was grapes.  He said, 'Oh my God, you're going to love this product on grapes.  Just give it a try.'  So we did.  The first year we had a couple of test plots.  We used it, maybe not like the book says, but in a couple of different instances.  We didn't know if the good results were just by accident or what.  So the next year, we tried it on all of our grapes, and had a real big success with it.

Jim questioned, "What did you see that you liked?"  "It makes the plants much stronger," stated Greg.  "You could just see the increase in plant health, the real sturdy buds on it.  We really noticed that this year with the cold temperatures we had.  Of course, everybody says we couldn't grow vinifera grapes.  Twelve below zero and we stll had a full crop of them.  We were real excited about that.  And the sugars!  The other day our partner Ted said we had 23 brix some vinefera.

"That's a significant improvement?"  Jim questioned.  "Yes," replied Greg.  "Of course, we never had the vinifera grapes before, but we've had the French hybrid grapes and they are consistently higher and stronger.  Probably back in the late eighties, early nineties, we were having inconsistent crops, and the plants weren't as healthy.  One year we ended up over cropping, the next year we'd under crop --  inconsistent yields.  We feel we are getting more consistent yields now."

Jim continued his questioning along the same lines, "If you were to prepare a field for grapes, what would you do from a calcium standpoint?"  Greg answered, "We've got a good supplier locally.  They screen it, because they are looking for the bigger pieces for some kind of road projects.  So we get real fine lime, the finer the better.  When we put it on, it's just a big dust bowl out there.

"If I was going to plant grapes, we'd put on at least 25 ton per acre.  Then we would subsoil it a couple of times, backwards and crossways and sideways.  We have a V ripper with seven shanks on it, which we pull it as deep as we can.  When the wheels are on the ground, it is running between 18 and 24 inches deep, and it's all my 175 horsepower tractor will pull.  When we are done with that, we disc it all up and get out there with the chisel plow.  We always put a cover crop on it.  Kill it off and sow grass seed on it.

Ed chuckled,  "Tell us your first experience of the growth on your grape clippings."  "Good point," Greg replied.  "We took an old cow pasture and grew Christmas trees on it for about 15 to 20 years.  We ripped out the trees and put about 20 or 25 tons of lime down.  We just loaded down the lime, because it had never been worked on, never been limed for as long as I can remember.  We plowed it down, ripped it, sub soiled it, ripped it.  We got that lime down there as deep as we could.  Then we put in the grapes.  The next year they just took off growing and went to the top of the wire, which is unheard of the first year.  The second year, they were all trained up, and the third year they produced part of a crop."

Continued Ed.  "How long does it normally take one of those type grapes to come and start producing?"  Greg replied,  "They usually say it's about six years before you are in full production, maybe the fourth or fifth.  But we were at least a year or two ahead in schedule."

"So you gained a year to 18 months?"  asked Jim.  "Oh yes, at least,"  answered Greg.  "How's the sugar, grape and wine quality been?"  questioned Ed.  "It's been great!"  said Greg.  "We always strive for sugar, to get it high, and that is getting better each year.  I think another big key is not putting that other fertilizer on anymore.  As far as I can say, the quality of our grapes has been as good as they have been since we've been growing grapes.  Of course, if we have good quality grapes you're going to come up with a better product."   

starlight.jpgEd continued, "You're also starting to produce your own brandies from your wines.  How's that coming along?"  "Great," answered Greg.  "We take the wine and distill it down to one hundred and ninety proof.  We hold it about a year to let it mellow out a little bit.  Then we take the fresh juices of that product, whether it is blueberry, peach, raspberry, apple, pear -- we do quite a few different ones, and we infuse the fresh juices back into that high proof.  After that we let it sit for about six months to settle in, let everything blend together naturally, and then we bottle it.  It's kind of a dessert wine.  It's gone over real well.  The brandies will be out soon.  To be called a brandy, it has to be two years old.  Ours will be three.  It just takes a long time for brandy to mellow out enough.  It has to age.  It's a long process."  Ed laughed, "I liked your statement, 'you have the only legal still in the state of Indiana!'"

"What's your protocol with limestone now?"  asked Jim.  "I don't look at the soil test,"  Greg answered.  "I just go out and lime.  When I plant pumpkins, we're putting 8 to 10 ton on.  Right now it's the middle of September, I'll put my lime on right now for next year.  I get the ground ready, lime it, subsoil it, and sow it to rye, so it will be ready to no-till in the spring.  I've learned to plan a year ahead of time.  It's worked out real good.

"And then after my pumpkins are gone," Greg continued, "I have a couple of years while the field is still built up.  I rotate it into tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, or every once in a while, I'll slip in a strawberry.  That's another crop we rotate with,  but we always put 6 or 8 tons of lime on before we plant strawberries.  Every third year we have pumpkins and we put 10 tons of lime on .  If it's a field that hasn't been farmed, or an orchard we take out, I put 20 to 25 tons on."

Jim asked, "I know each crop is a little bit different, but what is your standard protocol with Growers as far as applying it?"  Greg laughed,  "I'll have to go get my little green book.  That's pretty handy - The Recommendation Book.  I kind of go off of that.  From one year to another, I kind of adjust it a little bit.  We usually go 1 to 2 gallons per acre per spray, and we probably put on at least five sprays per crop.  The fall application is the next thing for me to try to conquer.  I'm really interested in helping the plant as it goes into dormancy - real strong, healthy buds.

"Is there anything you can say that could give someone an idea that the Growers Program might work for him?"  concluded Jim.  "Times change," answered Greg,  "and people have a hard time changing, but sometimes you need to change and experiment to improve.  That doesn't mean I'm going to make a lot of changes, because this is what we are going to do until something different is proven better.  The Growers Program has been a great start for us and I think everybody ought to give it a shot.  If nothing else, do like I did, just do a couple of acres.  That's what I did, I was impressed and I am still impressed."

For more information on Huber's Orchard & Winery, log on to their web site, or call 1-800-345-9463.

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