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Standing in front of “the white building with a red roof”, Chuck McSpadden is proud to show off, not only his 40-acre orchard of apples trees but also his Apple store bakery. The inside of the Cracker-Barrel-esque style building holds a variety of apple products and Apple Valley’s prized cider.

Chuck says, “Dad started this as a hobby with just two apple trees. We had 30-40 trees when I was a kid. I grew up with apples, peaches, grapes, nectarines, plums, cherries - all in the back yard but more apples than anything.”

Chuck’s dad worked for Sears Roebuck in the garden department where he was around a lot of fruit trees. He was given a couple of trees that didn’t sell and he planted them in his back yard, which became somewhat of a hobby. As he dabbled in his hobby acquiring a few more trees, Chuck’s mom told his father that he should get a few more, “She expected him to get about 30 or 40… he bought 400!”

Chuck remembers moving to the farm when he was three years old and he loved being outside on the farm. After growing up and attempting college he remembered staring out of the window during class, thinking it looked so much nicer outside he just wanted to be out in it, “This was basically all I wanted to do.”

His father began selling apples around 1972. “We were still real small. My grandfather had one of those old commercial chicken houses and we washed it down and petitioned it off… we still had shavings on the floor for about a year. Then we concreted it off and just gradually built from there. The bakery part we built about 1987. We added the store front addition about 2001.

"We just continued to keep planting trees. We currently have 16,000 trees in the orchard. We have re-set some trees where they have just gotten older. I’m going to set up approximately 1,800-1,900 more trees this coming spring and we’ll have 30 different varieties on the ground.”

Chuck states that he has a crew that comes up from Florida that has been helping him for the last 15 years (except the year of 2007 when his crop suffered a big freeze and “we lost the entire crop.”

Back in the 1970s, about 50 percent of the orchard was Red Delicious; now that figure is about 3 percent. Goldens, Romes and Winesaps were also part of the four major varieties. “Golden is still one of our top varieties - they are an all-purpose apple that a lot of folks love to eat. They make great pies and apple sauce; we have a lot of folks who don’t like sugar in their apple sauce and when the Goldens get good and ripe they’re real sweet.” Chuck estimates that the orchard could expand about 60 acres but that is as big as he wants to get.

“The majority of who we sell to is to the public. A lot of folks from Chattanooga come out… Cleveland, North Georgia, Dalton, Chatsworth and Ringgold. We even have a lot of folks come down from Knoxville.”

Chuck also has many tourists come from all over thanks to word of mouth and the Internet, “It was funny, back in what had to be the early 90s, Channel 12 was out here doing a story and they wanted to know how folks found us. They asked if they could interview some of our customers and wanted to talk to some of the local folk. The people they first talked to were from Texas so the guy tried to find someone local and the next people they spoke to were from Kansas.”

Chuck also hosts a lot of school tours. When asked if he ever had any FFA kids come to work the farm he replied, “Because most of our work is done in the fall, when kids are in school, we don’t. We may have an occasional teenager work on some weekends. We have church groups that come out and we do trailer rides through the orchard, but our main tours are preschool, kindergarten and the first grade. We’ll have 3,000 kids come out.”

They have a story time about Johnny Appleseed. “We go through the building talking about how the apples are brushed, washed, how the machine sizes them, how they are packaged and how we store them. We go back into the cider room and talk about how we make cider. We’ll have a group out in the orchard and show them the fruit buds on the tree for the next year and, depending on the age group, we talk about insects.”

What are the good bugs and bad bugs? “Praying mantises are good. The best bugs are ladybugs - they eat a lot of the aphids so we try to protect them. Our biggest foe is the Codling Moth - that’s what actually puts a worm in an apple - that and the Oriental Fruit Moth. We don’t chemically treat for them anymore… instead we use ‘mating disruption’. That puts the female scent of the moth in the air before they hatch out - we hang them on the trees every spring.” When the males hatch out the scent is so strong it overloads their sensory system. They become highly confused and they can’t find a female with which to mate.

Planting occurs in February and March three to four years before harvesting. Harvest season is during the last week of July and the pickers finish in early November. Chuck says, “I am actually planting more varieties to stretch out that season a little bit. My season is basically July through Christmas.”

The hail storms this past spring really hurt this year’s crop. “When the apples bloom in April we worry about frost. The freeze in ‘07 took our entire crop so we try to stay aware when a freeze is coming. I will call the weather bureau in Morristown and find out if there is going to be an air inversion. That is where there is warmer air 50 to 100 feet above and on those cold nights, we’ll bring a helicopter in and he will slowly hover around the orchard blowing that warm air down. I am out in the orchard watching the thermometer and I have seen the thermometer go up anywhere from 4-8 degrees just like that.”

Chuck basically sells to the public but also to the village market in Collegedale, “One of our biggest customers is an individual down in Mississippi. He comes and gets several hundred bushels a couple of times. We wholesale a lot of cider to some of the stores in Cleveland like Cook’s and the Super Savers. We were in four of the Bi-Los last year and will be in approximately 28 stores next year - there were more hoops to jump through than I expected.”

One of his biggest sellers is moonshine jelly. “It has a few drops of moonshine and, of course, the alcohol cooks away. I think people give it away as a gag gift. We sell cases and cases of it.”

Apple Valley Orchard offers so many different varieties, Fuji, Gala, Honey Crisp, Pink Lady (one of Chuck’s favorites) and Senshu just to name a few. “Senshu is super sweet and extremely juicy; when you bite into it, it will drip. I’m the only grower I know that grows Senshu in the South.”

The harvest for each variety is at different times during the year. The Caitlyn Gala’s shape is different. He named this variety after his daughter. A Gala is normally small or medium in size, but the Caitlyn Gala is large. “We walked through the orchard and I noticed this tree where the apples were much larger at the top of the tree… had a different shape.” They tagged the tree and watched it the next year and it was the same thing… the bottom was normal and the top was larger. He noticed that where they had taken a chain saw to that tree years before, it caused a mutation that messed up the genetics of the tree. It changed the variety as it grew. He even had the Stark Brothers Nursery in Missouri to come out and check it out. Stark Brothers were the ones to sell the first Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples.

How do you grow new varieties? “You can take a seed out of an apple and plant it - you don’t know what it is going to be… it will be a cross with what it was and what it pollinates with. You can also do this by grafting one variety onto a root stock of another.”

What are the best apples for cider? “A blend. Cider is made in mid-August through January. Each week the taste is somewhat different because of so many different varieties. Twenty five percent is Golden Delicious. Using the red apples makes it too sweet.”

In 1987, with the outbreak of E. coli in California the orchard now must pasteurize the cider they sell. “We use what we call ‘Flash Pasteurization’ where we heat it to 162 degrees for 152 seconds.” Chuck sells juice to some wineries, as well as the cider he sells to stores. “Most people that enjoy cider like it to have a little bit of a kick, where it starts to ferment.”

It takes a lot of work during harvest time, “Our pickers will average at least 400 pounds a day - a crate holds 800 pounds.” When the apples fall to the ground they have to make sure to keep rats away by taking a dozer and making a sweep. The fallen apples they gather make good treats for cattle.

What did Chuck want to be when he grew up? “I loved to read and I once read a book called The Life of General Pershing- I wanted to be an Army general. Then I found out you couldn’t start out as a general and I changed my mind.”

Apple Valley Orchards is at 351 Weese Road SE off Bates Pike.

To learn more about Apple Valley Orchard or to order from its online store, please visit their website at www.applevalleyorchard.com or call 472-3044.

Jen Jeffrey

[email protected]

Source : https://www.chattanoogan.com/2011/12/30/216334/Growing-Local-Chuck-McSpadden-s-Apple.aspx

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