WASHOE VALLEY - Al and Delane Pennington readily admit that they don't know a whole lot about operating an organic apple orchard.
"If there is anyone who knew less about farming, it was me," Al Pennington said.
He is a pilot for Avant Air and an evangelist for the Four Square Churches. Delane is an elementary school teacher in Dayton.
"We're novices," she said.
Their dream home in the country included the orchard. And with that came all the requirements of licensing an organic orchard as a business. The Apple Basket is the only certified organic apple orchard in Northern Nevada.
Wild flowers tangled in the grass around the 200 apple trees. Shiny aluminum strips are tied onto the green branches, heavy with the fall crop. The strips have been a highly successful bird repealing method. Not as successful are the pheromone dispensers. These dispenser tied around the tree branches are supposed to confuse coddling moths and prevent them from laying eggs inside the apples.
This fall is the Penningtons first crop after purchasing the one-acre Agape Organics orchard last summer. Their cedar-sided house looms above the orchard, which is surrounded by a 6-foot fence meant to keep out deer.
"There are four varieties here," Al said as he strolled through the orchard on Thursday afternoon. "And the Galas seem to ripen first. We have Braeburn, Cameo, Gala and Golden Delicious."
He wrapped his fingers around a squat reddish apple. The family dog, Siggy, which is short for the Ancient Greek word Sigao, happily trotted beside him. Siggy helps out by chasing the gophers.
"These are Golden Delicious, the last three rows, but they're not quite ready yet."
Apples must be removed a certain way from the tree - a twist and tug method - or else the spur is torn off and another apple won't grow there for two years. Al tried to demonstrate the proper method, but it wasn't successful. That's something his wife wouldn't be happy with.
Enemy No. 1 is the coddling moth. This fiend drills a hole into the apples and implants larvae. Laymen typically call them worms. The evidence of its presence is a dark spot on the apple's skin - there may or may not be a visible hole.
"You can still use the apple if you cut out that part, but we don't sell those for people to eat," Al said. "They only get perfect ones.
"As an organic farmer you'll lose a large part of your crop to moth damage.
"One of the reasons why organic is so expensive is because you lose so much of your crop, compared to a farmer who can spray his trees."
They've invested about $1,000 into the orchard so far, which he anticipates will be an annual cost. Organic food stores, such as Wild Oats, require an orchard to take out a $2 million insurance policy. Because, Al said, the premium on a policy like that would eat up any profits they might reap, they've decided to try something else.
"We plan to open one day a week - probably Saturday - and have people pick their own apples," he said.
That also requires liability insurance, which the Penningtons said they'll have soon.
The orchard gives Delane another business activity: dehydrating apples. For several nights she has stayed up late peeling and coring apples with one handy tool that she bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
But there's one thing she isn't ready to try yet.
"Some people take the dropped apples - with the worms in them - and grind them up and that's a very organic juice," she said. "I'm not quite ready to drink apple juice with worms."
There's another benefit to owning your own orchard, other than the small profit it might bright. It makes the grandchildren happy.
The Penningtons have 13 grandchildren who are entertained for hours by running in the orchard and searching for the fallen apples. Delane called this their daily Easter egg hunt.
"The kids can see that food does not come from a grocery store," Al said.
The Apple Basket, 7425 Franktown Road, should be open for apple picking in October. For information, call 885-1988.
-- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
To become an organic farm or orchard a grower must:
•Comply with United States Department of Agriculture national organic program standards
•Receive certification through a USDA accredited certifying agent
•Use natural methods of pest control. Some pesticides can be used for organic productions, but the grower must try other methods before resorting to even the approved pesticides
•Annual audits and inspection
•Growers must keep records of anything that happens in the orchard
For information contact Peggy McKie, agriculturist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture at 688-1182, ext. 243.