Glenn Aldridge points to a lithe, young fruit tree on a steep bluff overlooking Old Bethpage Village. “See that? That’s a happy tree,” he says smiling.
A longtime volunteer at Restoration Farm and a passionate orchardist, Aldridge has planted and nurtured peach, apple and cherry trees at the organic farm that shares land with the historic village. When administrators asked if the farm was interested in managing the old Hewlett Apple Orchard at the north end of the village, Aldridge jumped at the chance.
The Hewlett Apple Orchard was designed and planted in spring 1992 by Nassau County workers. A hand-drawn map from the time of planting depicts 70 heritage apple trees, including historic varieties such as yellow Newtown pippin, Roxbury russett and sheepsnose.
When Aldridge took over the orchard in early 2012, it was neglected and growing wild. He led a team of volunteers through a strenuous pruning effort, thinning out years of tangled, unkempt branches and opening the trees up to air and sunlight.
Now, more than a year-and-a-half into their revival, the trees are increasing their output, and Aldridge hopes to soon market apples to farm stand customers and CSA members for baking, cider and eating. Aldridge typically spends six or seven days a week maintaining the orchard and has also planted six additional fruit tree varieties.
Insect infestation is an ongoing battle in summer months. Aldridge experimented with organic sprays, but now prefers using mulch rings, companion plantings and beneficial plants to propagate a diversity of favorable insects.
“There were no sprays in the 1870s, so people lived with insect damage,” says Aldridge. “I like that we’re doing that here at Restoration Farm. We’re living within the time period of this museum and the orchard is in that time period.”
Despite the intensive physical effort and challenges from natural predators, he remains passionate about heritage fruit trees and maintaining orchards for the benefit of the community.
“We’ve lost a lot of variety in our apples,” says Aldridge. “You’ll never see a Roxbury russett or a yellow Newtown pippin in a grocery store, but that’s something that we should all enjoy.”
He is proud of his role as caretaker of the Hewlett Apple Orchard. “The county did a great thing planting the orchard 20 years ago,” Aldridge says. “It’s important for our community to have this, and now hopefully we can continue this orchard for everyone.”
T.W. Barritt blogs at culinarytypes.blogspot.com