By Doug Bush
I recently saw some alarming statistics. In 1900, West Virginia had over 100,000 farmers farming nearly 9 million acres. Today, West Virginia has 21,489 farmers farming about 3.65 million acres. We have about 1/5th of the farms and a little more than 1/3rd of the acreage today verses what we did in 1900. Each year we lose farmland and farmers. The average age of a WV farm is 61. One of the challenges for agriculture is to recruit young farmers. Long hours of hard work pays off in a healthy lifestyle just made for raising a family. In WV 95% of our farms are family owned. This percentage leads the nation. I think our job in every community is to support locally grown, locally raised products. WV has over 88 farmers markets, giving us plenty of opportunity.
The Maple Syrup Festival in downtown Pickens is March 16-17. My wife and I enjoy the arts and crafts, eating more than our fair share of pancakes, sausage, and maple syrup, and stopping by the museum to explore more history of this proud mountain community. They always make you feel welcome.
Early spring is the time most farmers think about pruning their favorite fruit trees. Pruning encourages a more productive, healthier tree. I have always followed these basic rules of pruning:
- Start with the right tools, and prune early spring.
- Balance the trees with limbs evenly spaced apart like spokes on a wheel.
- The trees should be conical shaped with lower limbs having more volume than the top.
- Limit your tree to 5-6 limbs coming from the main trunk growing at a 45’ to 50’ angle to support all of the fruit you are going to have.
- Open up the middle to encourage air flow and sunshine to pass through the tree.
- Cut off all dead branches and the limbs growing down. Thin out whorls. Whorls are a place where three or more limbs meet at a common location. The tree cannot support that many limbs from a common location.
The over mature trees that I trim never look like the pictures in the book. By the time I get through with all of the cutting my tree usually looks like a cactus and my daughter calls me “the Butcher”. My response is always the same, a fruit tree is not a shade tree. If your tree has shade, it needs more pruning. 95% of new plantings in WV orchards are semi-dwarf trees. You can call your local extension agent for more information on pruning.
A great program that our district supports is the Century Farm program. To have the Century Farm sign hanging in front of your farm house is a great honor. It reflects not only the hard work done on the farm for many years, but the love of farming that was passed to another family member(s). This year our district has two Century Farm applications. The basic requirements to be considered for a Century Farm are:
- A family must have farmed the same tract of land more than 100 years.
- Line of ownership from first family member owning the land may be through spouses, children, siblings, nephews or nieces.
- Farms must be at least 10 Acres and gross more than $1,000 annually.
- Family member must live on the farm and be an active part of the day to day operations.
A Sesquicentennial farm has been a one family operated farm for 150 years and a Bicentennial farm for 200 years. One of my favorite things to do is to drive in the country to find those well-loved hidden farms. Nobody appreciates the love of a farm more than other farmers.
The opportunity for gardening is quickly approaching. The Barbour and Upshur county extension offices are joining forces to offer classes on different topics.
March 11 at Upshur County: Soil, Botany
March 12 at Barbour County: Tygart Valley Soil Conservation Equipment, Herbs, and Site Selection
March 18 at Upshur County: Vegetable Varieties, Pesticides, and Herbicides
March 19 at Barbour County: Fruit Varieties, Pruning, and Post Harvest
Dates to remember:
March 7 End of poultry litter sign-ups
March 7-9 Appalachian Grazing Conference
April 15- May 17 AgEp sign-up
Soil District Administration
Jim Nestor- Tucker County
Joe Gumm- Randolph County
Donnie Tenney Upshur County
Sheldon Findley Taylor County
Joe Shaffer Taylor County
James Dean Randolph County
Doug Bush Upshur County
John Sencindiver Upshur County
Keith Knight Barbour County
Joyce Frey Education Supervisor/Bookkeeper
Candice Stone District Manager
Sigrid Teets Conservation Specialist
Photo courtesy of Bennett’s Century Farm, Dry Ford Rd, Tucker County, WV