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Central Washington nursery sells its last trees

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

One of Central Washington's fruit tree nurseries is closing its doors after more than half a century in business.

QUINCY, Wash. — A Central Washington fruit tree nursery is shutting down after more than 50 years in business.

Columbia Basin Nursery was founded in the early 1960s by Carl and Gie Perleberg and has been operated by Gie and their daughters, Dena Ybarra, and Carla Perleberg, since Carl’s death in 1992.

Columbia Basin has served growers in Washington and Oregon as well as the Midwest, East Coast and Canada.

Not as large as at least five of its competitors in the region, Columbia Basin has produced an average of about 600,000 trees per year in the last 20-plus years, peaking with its final harvest of 800,000 trees last November. Those trees, stored through winter, are being shipped now. Shipping will done at the end of May and an auction to sell equipment will be conducted by Chuck Yarbro Auctioneers, Moses Lake, on June 27.

The warehouses and office are being sold to Tye Fleming, Wenatchee, owner of Helios Nursery with operations in Othello and rootstock beds in McMinnville, Ore. He said he will move some of his operations there.

“As a family, we decided to retire,” said Ybarra, general manager. Her husband, Manuel, is nursery manager.

“Sometimes when people sell, things have a way of dragging on. That can be tough. We wanted to close on our terms with a nice, strong crop,” she said.

It takes two years to grow a tree budded to rootstock. The nursery curtailed new rootstock orders two years ago and told customers to place their orders with other nurseries.

There is strong demand for new trees as growers have been using good apple returns of recent years to replace older trees with new ones and expand orchards.

“It’s a good business to be in and it’s been a pleasure,” said Gie Perleberg, who turns 81 in May. “We’ve made a lot of friends in the state, country and around the world.”

Carl and Gie obtained their nursery license in 1960 and found sales good enough that it was 1964 before they had enough trees earmarked to start their own orchards that eventually grew to 1,000 acres in Quincy, George and Royal City.

Carl liked horticulture, became a member of the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association and gained recognition as an innovator for planting non-dwarfing trees at high density, fearing dwarfing rootstock would not be winter hardy.

“It was successful. His 50 acres of that is still in production. In 1956, it was a bad winter and standard tops of Golden Delicious on dwarfing rootstock were severely damaged. That was a risk Dad didn’t think this area should take,” Ybarra said.

Subsequently, dwarfing rootstocks have improved and the benefit of early and high production has outweighed the risk of winter damage, she said.

The Perleberg sisters grew up in the business. Dena, seven years older than Carla, gravitated toward horticulture and outside work, Carla toward office work.

“When I was little, we were out in the field a lot and when Carla came along Mom went into the office more where it was easier to take care of Carla,” Dena said.

“We never fought for the same jobs and it’s been a wonderful family business,” Carla said.

When the sisters went off to college they didn’t necessarily intend to return to the nursery, but when they did they both went back to where they were the happiest, Dena outside and Carla inside, Dena noted.

Dena graduated from Washington State University with a degree in horticulture in 1987. Carla graduated from Eastern Washington University in accounting and became company office manager and controller.

The company began leasing its orchards to Northern Fruit Co., East Wenatchee, two years ago. Before that, it employed 350 people at harvest and more than 100 year-round.


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