Orchard thrives for 132 years
By Heather Smith Thomas
For the Capital Press
The Williams family has been in the orchard business for 132 years — and counting.
“I was raised on this ranch. Part of it was my grandfather’s homestead; he came here in 1882 and filed on the place in 1890 when Idaho started issuing deeds,” Harold Williams says.
“The orchard has been here since my grandfather first planted it. I put some of the ranch into alfalfa, but the original place always had an orchard,” he says.
“According to an article my wife Jackie found, this was the first commercial orchard in Emmett. My grandfather bought all his trees from Stark Brothers in Missouri. We found one old order for 4,000 trees,” Williams says.
His grandfather had pears, apples and cherries. “We celebrated our centennial in 1990 and received a certificate stating that the ranch had the same owners for 100 years.”
“We deliver fruit to stores and also run U-pick on peaches and cherries. We get a lot of customers when the peaches are in season; people like the tree-ripened peaches. Some people have been coming here for peaches for 30 years and few have been customers for nearly 60 years! One customer has come all the way from Livingston, Montana, for more than 30 years,” Williams says.
The ranch has three full-time employees and hires extra help during harvest. There are other tasks during the rest of the year.
“For instance we might have six people working during part of the winter, pruning trees. Apples and peaches have to be pruned every year when they are dormant. It’s often done during late December or early January, and we try to be done by the first of March.
“My wife and I run the business; our family is all grown up and gone,” Williams says.
The trees are watered by sprinkler irrigation, part of it with buried lines, and part of with hand lines,” he explains.
Trees are replaced when they get old.
“Cherries and apples last the longest; they are good for at least 50 years. Peach trees only last 12 to 15 years. We replant some trees almost every year, to keep new ones coming on,” Williams says. “We get most of our trees from a nursery in Washington state.”
There is only a short window of time when fruit is optimally ripe for picking.
“With cherries it’s about a two-week window, and peaches about the same. You want them ripe before you start harvesting or U-pick, and then they need to be picked quickly,” Williams says. “We generally have more cherries than we have customers for, so we sell boxes of cherries to some of the stores. The peaches are easier to market through U-pick.”
The orchard has several varieties of apples.
“The earliest ripening are Gala, then come the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, Rome and Fuji. Galas are ready to pick by late August and Romes come on the first of October. We try to get done with apple harvest by the first of November,” Williams says. “We only have one block of apples that we sell by U-pick, and the rest are marketed commercially.”
These are sold through stores. Lower quality processing apples are sent to Tree Top in Yakima to be made into apple juice and applesauce.
“Most apple growers in Idaho and Washington belong to Tree Top,” he says.
Williams Fruit Ranch
Location: Emmett, Idaho
Owners: Harold and Jackie Williams
Orchard since: 1882
Acreage: 100 acres (70 acres in orchard)
Crops: Cherries, peaches, prunes, plums and apples