Ron Kelley’s father and grandfather were citrus growers in Southern California, growing oranges and grapefruit since the 1930s.
“I moved to Idaho in 1986,” Kelley says. “My sister Kathy decided to join me temporarily. Now, 27 years later, she and her family are fruit-growers next door.”
“This orchard was mostly apples, some plums and a few cherries when we came,” Kelley says.
“We have fewer acres planted now, but more varieties of fruit,” he says. When they started, most of their fruit was marketed through a packing house. Now they sell the fruit themselves through a farmers’ market in Boise, U-pick and sales at the farm.
“We’ve done U-pick for eight years,” he says. “It started small, but now there’s quite a crowd here in August and September for peaches, and for apples in October. We are 60 miles north of Boise, but most of our clientele live closer, in Payette and Weiser.”
Many customers enjoy a drive in the country to pick fruit, but others like the to buy closer to home.
“We are part of a farmers’ market in Boise since 2002, and people are familiar with our produce. Now some like to bring their families out to the orchard and pick their own,” he says.
In 1993 his sister Kathy began experimenting with drying apples. By 1995 they launched a dried apple product called “AppleCrisp” in grocery stores in Eugene, Ore., and Sun Valley, Idaho, with the Kelley Orchards label.
“We discontinued that last year and focus on marketing through our own store or the farmers’ market,” he says.
Ron and his wife, Kimi, have developed flavored apple chips and other dried fruits and fruit mixes in response to customer requests.
“A lot of it goes through the farmers’ market in spring when there’s no fresh fruit available yet,” he says. Fruit they dry in the fall is sold throughout the year.
“I have one full-time person in the field working with me, and several seasonal workers. Three people help with drying operation through fall and winter, and some work in the store at the orchard most of the year,” he says.
“Kimi works with me in the farmers’ market but is busy raising our kids right now —Aaron 3, Joshua 6 and Shayla 8. I give her credit for moving us into the U-pick business,” he says. “I didn’t think it would work for us because we’re not close to large population centers. But if people want something, they will drive out to get it.”
They grow peach trees in a V or Y shape, pruned to just two limbs, with one pointed east and one west, to gather the most sunshine. This gives optimum growing and ripening conditions, and makes them easy to prune and pick.
“Most orchards also prefer dwarf apple trees. The smaller trees can be planted closer together and you get your first harvest quicker. Labor is less for pruning, thinning, picking and other hand operations,” he explains.
Young trees must be protected from deer. All new plantings are encircled with electric fence until the trees get big enough so deer don’t bother them as much.
“I have one apple tree that was planted in 1946. The rest have all been replaced. We had a lot of red delicious here, but people discovered there are better-tasting apples. Fujis are our most popular U-pick apples. We grafted most of our red delicious over to Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala and other kinds. Fujis hold up well without getting mushy or mealy,” he says.
“At the farmers’ market people are always looking for new things. Some are interested in antique-type apples like Winesap and Arkansas Black. We sell some of these older types because people want to try something they’ve never tried before,” Kelly explains.
Location: Weiser, Idaho
Owners: Ron and Kimi Kelley
In business: Since 1986
Acreage: 35 acres
Crops: Apples, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries