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Students learn how to manage an orchard

By John Barnhart

    Ronnie Gross, of Gross’ Orchard came out to Liberty High School (LHS) to talk with the school’s agriculture students about pruning fruit trees. Last year the students planted an orchard, which is sponsored by Gross’ Orchard, Johnson’s Orchard and Southern States. The idea is to give the students hands-on experience with this aspect of agriculture.

    Gross pointed out cicada damage from last year’s mass 17-year cicada emergence. The insects make slits in the bark to lay their eggs and Gross said that this stunted the newly planted trees’ growth last year. Every tree showed cicada damage, something Gross said his own orchard experienced.
    He discussed how orchardists train their trees to grow the way they want them to and what should be pruned away. He also talked about fertilizing and mulching. Gross said that mulch should never be put right up against a tree’s trunk. The mulch provides good habitat for two species of mice which will damage the tree.
    Gross also told the students that people need to be careful when using a line trimer around a tree. He pointed to one that had line-trimmer damage to its bark.
    The agriculture program at LHS is thriving. Lindsay Tomlinson has a full-day’s schedule of classes and she said that Spencer Blankenship, the school’s part-time ag teacher, will be teaching full-time in the fall. The school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter is also thriving with 100 members.
    According to Gross, the FFA chapter will be selling fruit trees at Gross’ Orchard’s Apple Blossom Festival on Saturday. The festival runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will be horse and buggy rides at this free-admission event and people will be able to take walking tours through the orchard.
    Gross is also trying to promote Bedford-grown products.
    “We’re promoting local production,” Gross said. “Know where your food is coming from.”
    And apples, of course.
    “Fruit is fast food, only healthier,” he commented.