Curlew Orchard

Posted on Monday, 9 August 2021 under Supporting Farmers and Ranchers Featured Farmers

Patrick and Sean began Curlew Orchard in 2015. Right away, the two began transitioning the orchard to organic and diversifying beyond the Gala, Ambrosia, and Granny Smith varieties that already existed. To do so, they began to enrich the soil to build up nutrients and over the years some of the older trees began to bounce back. Patrick has an environmental and project management background and wanted to be more active in living what he had talked about and researched. The property is farmed in a climate-conscious way, an important contribution for Patrick and Sean. Patrick says, “Even if it is in our own small way and we aren’t reaching that many people. Even if we don’t have the most efficient crop, it’s really about being able to do something and support what we want for our family”. Implementing their mitigation practices in small ways is an important step in the right direction. “I think so many things need to change, we’re surrounded by proof that mass change is needed,” says Patrick. “So really it’s about what little things we can start implementing to make it easier, practical and more enticing.”

Climate change is affecting farms differently depending on geography. Patrick shares, “In the short time we’ve been here, each year has been so different.” Their first two summers were hot and impacted by area forest fires, with ash falling onto trees, while the latter two were fairly wet, followed by this year. The winters have brought incredible amounts of snow up until this year. For Curlew Orchard, it is the extremes and unpredictability that make managing production difficult. Not only are they adapting to the changing climate, but Patrick and Sean are also doing what they can to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the orchard.

Diversifying crops is a good way to enhance pollinators, wildlife and other important species on the farm. Curlew Orchard has high and low-density blocks of apples on their steeper hill and a permaculture orchard on flatland. In the permaculture orchard, they interplant herbs and flowers underneath their orchard trees to maximize space and create habitat and food for pollinator species. Using a permaculture approach to an orchard can help manage pests, balance soil, conserve water, and offer more yield throughout the season. Patrick says, “Diversifying does make things more complicated but because our orchard is small, we have our own market that we work with.” Varieties are intentionally chosen to do well in their climate. Rather than bring in often popular coastal apples that need a lot of rain, they have more dry land climate apples. Patrick explains, “You do know the overall change [in climate] is happening. We’ve started to consider other crops that will be able to take the changing weather. We are trying to think about varieties that will be suited to the climate on our farm three to five years from now.”

To protect and enhance biodiversity around Curlew Orchard, specific areas of the property are unfenced to encourage a steady migration of wildlife. Trees are planted to create shade and foster more habitat for birds including a raptor perch. Patrick says, “We don’t want to use poisons on our pests so any way we can encourage the raptors, owls, and coyotes to come down and help with pests is good.” With these initiatives, they have noticed an increased presence of these natural predators.

Planting for biodiversity also utilizes unfarmed areas of the property. At Curlew Orchard, numerous underground streams and wetlands run through the property. Patrick says, “We get things growing in those areas so that bare land isn’t just baking on top of them.” Patrick and Sean have plans to work with a regional stewardship society to help rehabilitate the small wetland on the property by opening it up to hold water again and planting trees around it. Patrick emphasizes, “That benefits us too – the more beneficial insects we have on the property, the better it is for us.”

Another way that they mitigate climate change and benefit their soil is by experimenting with cover crops. In their orchard, they plant micro clovers and seed them in between the trees to build up some of the typical orchard grass with more clover and diversity. This method helps trees better withstand the heat and hosts a variety of beneficial insects. In their field, they are working at green manuring to build up the health of the soil across the entire field. These practices benefit their orchard but Patrick admits that cover cropping comes with challenges. He says, “Some of the cover crops overwintered and benefitted the field mice more than anything and you have to be prepared to continue to water the cover crop.”

Patrick and Sean are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the farm. Last year, they installed solar panels on the roof of their cold storage and plan to cover the remainder of their barn. The solar panels cover roughly 34% of their energy needs. For Curlew Orchard, the investment feels right for the long term, especially in the Okanagan where lately they have been maximizing solar energy. There is so much potential to generate solar energy through agriculture. Patrick says he would love to “see more outreach for farmers to put them onto their already existing buildings. There is no shortage of barns with metal roofs that could have solar panels on them.”

Photo by Curlew Orchard

This short video was filmed during the late June, early July heatwave at Curlew Orchard. Patrick tells us why it’s important to adopt climate and environmentally friendly practices and strengthen our local food system.