Orchard Revived in Ashby
By Crystal Bozek

ASHBY -- When Elia and Greg Pierce bought land on 390 Erickson Road to build a new home, they found out they had a fairly unusual back yard.

The Pierces discovered their yard was part of a 40-acre tract of apple trees that hadn't been cared for since owner Ed O'Neil, the largest apple distributor in New England, had converted the land for development.

O'Neil hadn't pruned or sprayed the apples in two years. The couple noticed the decaying trees were sprawling wildly and the apples they produced were soft and scabbed.

They bought the house and the 100 apple trees that neighbor it, deciding to save a part of the town's history and pick up a new hobby. Their trees, along with the 135 belonging to their neighbors, will be part of a business called "Ashby Apples," and should be ripe for the picking in early September.

The rest of the orchard will probably die and be used for firewood, Pierce said.

"It was now or never ... They told us that if we waited any longer, it might take at least six years to get the trees to produce apples again," Elia Pierce said.

Starting in the apple business wasn't easy, since the couple knew nothing about apple trees.

"It was never just about buying the house here. We should have been thinking about the house, but instead we were thinking of the trees," she said. "We had one neighbor who stopped just to say thank you for saving the trees."

Greg Pierce, an electrical and computer engineer, never thought his hobby would consume so much of his time.

"It was a forced hobby by buying the house," Pierce joked. "It's been tough. Pruning them was very hard since they had been left for so long ... It took up full days."

After moving in, Pierce met neighbor Shawn Zwicker, who worked for O'Neil for 12 years, so he shared some knowledge of how to care for the trees. Zwicker didn't have the equipment or money, so he had watched the apple trees slowly deteriorate.

Zwicker quickly agreed to help Pierce with the project, and Ashby Apples began its process to become a pick-your-own orchard.

"We both really can't afford the orchard sprayers or tractors, so we found creative ways to work the orchard," Pierce said. "Everything has been as cheap as you can get it done."

They used a skimobile trailer pulled by an all-terrain vehicle to spray the trees. Instead of a tractor, the men used an attached set of four mowers pulled by the ATV.

The group uses a simple insecticide that can be bought straight off the shelf.

"I didn't want to use one of those industrial-use chemicals ... I have little kids here," Greg Pierce said. "So we'll see how they work with the general stuff."

Five weeks ago, another family moved in and decided to help the effort.

When Paula and Phil Bogue saw their home, it was love at first sight.

"She just fell in love with it," Phil Bogue said of his wife, whose grandfather used to grow apples. "We didn't realize just how many apples were here at the time."

The group will begin putting up signs and fliers, and they are hoping that the downtown Ashby Market might sell some of the apples. The trees produce six varieties of apples.

"There's history here," Paul Bogue said. "People tell us about how they used to come out here to the orchard and steal pillowcases full of apples."

People can visit Ashby Apples on the Internet at ashbyapples.com

Their sales pitch is already ready: "An Ashby Apple a Day."

"In a grocery store, you don't stop to think where the apples come from," Bogue said. "People can come pick and see where there apples grow. This orchard used to produce some of the best apples."

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