Orchard keeps family busy
By Heather SMITH Thomas
For the Capital Press
The Isom family started its orchard 20 years ago.
“It all began when my wife Jeanne went to a meeting about fruit trees, hosted by our county agent at that time. We bought 200 apple trees,” says Marc Isom.
He grew up farming near Idaho Falls, Idaho. He and Jeanne farmed there after they were married, then moved to their present farm near Blackfoot in 1990. The orchard is on 5 acres near their house.
“We started with four types of apples — Honeycrisp, Macintosh, Red Haralson and Sweet Sixteen — that the county agent suggested,” Marc recalls.
“Our orchard has changed; almost all the apples now are Honeycrisp because that’s what people want,” he explains.
Half of their apples are sold through farmers’ markets in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Rexburg and Jackson.
“The other half are sold at the farm; a lot of people come here to buy apples or do U-pick. We usually have quite a few people here and it’s fun,” he says. Depending on the year, apples can be ripe by early September through the end of October.
The trees are watered with sprinklers.
“For the first trees we planted, we put in a drip system. When we expanded we put in overhead sprinkler systems for the additional trees,” he explains.
The first trees were semi-dwarf, but fairly tall.
“Then we went to dwarf trees because they are so much easier to take care of — and easier for people to pick,” he says. The small trees mature faster, and start producing fruit within four to five years.
“When planting the trees, they are basically just small sticks, put into the ground — about a half an inch in diameter — and they just grow from that,” he says. When trees are young, they are vulnerable to damage by deer and rodents.
“Mice and voles eat the bark off the young trees. You can protect the little trees with wire mesh but we also put out bait for the rodents. Then they’ll eat the bait and leave the trees alone. We have a lot of cats, and they help keep the mice down,” he says.
He and Jeanne have three grown children and three still at home. Kaydee is 18 and will graduate this spring from high school. Julie is 16 and Benson is 12.
“They enjoy helping with the orchard, and the older ones come home in the fall; they take a vacation and help with the harvest,” Isom says. Additional high school kids are hired to help pick.
The whole family helps tend the trees — pruning in spring and thinning apples in summer.
“If the tree has too much fruit on its branches we pick some, leaving one every 6 inches,” he says. This space enables them to grow larger, and not crowded,” he says.
“You can take up to 70 percent of the small apples off, depending on how much frost there was in the spring. We usually thin the extra ones in June, when they’re the size of a marble,” he explains.
“We always have some frost damage, but how much depends on the year. When we just had a few trees we burned fires in the orchard to prevent frost damage on a cold night, but now we just turn on the sprinklers. This helps raise the temperature a degree or two, to protect the blossoms and keep them from freezing,” Isom says.
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of our orchard. We might do something special and invite people to come help us celebrate,” he says.
Isom’s Fruit Farm
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho
Owners: Marc and Jeanne Isom
In business since: 1990
Acreage: 5 acres of orchard
Fruit grown: apples