SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (AP) — It's hard to beat biting into a juicy apple plucked right from the tree.
A group of volunteers in South Sioux City hope many other people can experience that, plus learn how to grow, harvest and preserve their own fruit, the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1K3YAym ) reported.
The Orchard in South Sioux City is just beginning to sprout, but in a few years, organizers hope there will be apples by the bushel, as well as other fruits and berries that can be used to show that anyone can raise fruit.
"There's a real interest in the population of growing their own so they know what's in their food. This is a great way for them to do that," said Carol Larvick, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator in Dakota County.
Some 200 fruit trees were planted a year ago. The majority are some variety of apple tree, but there are a few peach, pear and plum trees, too. About 50 aronia, currant and honeyberry bushes were planted this year.
At 4-6 feet tall, the trees are still two or three years away from producing fruit, but Larvick and others have been cultivating interest in the orchard through programs teaching local residents everything from how to raise fruit trees to preparing and preserving the fresh fruit.
To that end, the orchard is a teaching tool. Ultimately, fruit picked here will be given to food pantries and other charities, some will be available to the public and some will be used in classes, such as how to can food at home.
The orchard, near Siouxland Freedom Park and the Missouri River, was once farmland. Now the lot, owned by the city of South Sioux City and maintained by city staffers and volunteers, is involved in agriculture of a different type. The orchard was developed using a $20,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant plus some matching funds from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the city. More grants are being sought to improve and expand the site.
"It's exciting to see what was an empty field now covered with trees," said Linda Castor, a University of Nebraska Master Gardener who lives in Dakota City.
Castor is involved in another educational role of the orchard: attracting bees.
Two pollinator gardens filled with flowers were planted on either side of the orchard this year to attract bees, which will be needed to pollinate all these fruit trees once they start producing. Bees, Castor said, are becoming endangered because of pesticides and loss of habitat. The gardens are a way to show people just how important these insects are to our food supply.
The flowers, especially the native ones growing here, are already bringing the bees, evident by the large bumblebees checking out the small yellow blossoms on a ground cherry plant.
"With the native plants, they have what the bees are attracted to," Castor said.
You can't have fruit without bees, so Castor said pollinator gardens are a way to show everyone that even by planting one pot of flowers at home, they can help nature provide the food we like to eat.
"If we all want to be healthy, this is a beginning," she said.
Attendance at a recent open house to show off the orchard was hampered by cool, rainy weather, but it did yield one enthusiastic person who is ready to volunteer, Larvick said. As the trees grow larger and begin to bear fruit, Larvick said she expects to see more people interested in joining the crew of volunteers who work in the orchard.
"Once we get a lot of fruit production, I think we'll see a lot of that," Larvick said.
Hopefully, she said, the orchard won't just provide food, but will also encourage others to plant a fruit tree or two of their own.
The knowledge of how to do so is growing on the trees, after all.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com
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