Son carries on at Gibson's orchard
In 1968 the late Frank Gibson Sr. planted the first apple tree for his orchard off the North Road in Bethel. He continued to expand the orchard, and up until his death in January of this year, had been actively involved in its operation.
This is the first season in which his son, Ira Gibson, has been in charge of the 375 trees and 40 varieties of apples.
“I’ve always been interested in farming. It seemed natural that I’d take over. Dad and I talked about it,” said Ira. “I was always involved with the maple syrup, honey and apple cider. Dad was always doing the orchard ... Thankfully both parents kept immaculate records.”
Records to which Ira can refer to determine such things as pesticide and fertilizer amounts.
He sprays every seven to 10 days, but uses 25 to 33 percent less spray product than most orchards. That allows Gibson’s to advertise as a low spray orchard.
This year’s crop was abundant, partially because there was little frost and bees were brought in to help pollinate.
“I wouldn’t want the trees to always produce this much,” he said. “It’s hard on the trees. It’s a strain. In nature what you have is an ‘on’ year and an ‘off’ year. But we as orchardists do certain things to try to eliminate that. One of the things we do is put calcium on the last spraying. What we’d like to do, too, is to chemically thin.”
Such thinning is done by applying a spray to the apples. It causes the stems to weaken and the bad ones to drop.
“I didn’t chemically thin this year. Dad said if you don’t know how to, better off not to do anything. That’s the one place even my father had a hard time getting a handle on it. We did a lot of hand thinning this year and it worked out good.”
Ira also planted an additional 10 trees this year.
He has made minimal changes to the store, and Gibson’s selling price for apples have remained the same for the last three years. Despite cost increases for pesticides and fertilizer, he plans to continue holding the line on apple prices.
Ira has discovered that operating the orchard requires many different skills. He plays the role of chemist when calculating the spray and fertilizer usage. When it comes to keeping financial records and applying for licenses and permits, he’s the accountant and bookkeeper. When the tractor or other machinery is in need of repair, he’s the mechanic. He serves as millwright, harvesting trees from the property to use for building apple crates. He also built all of the buildings, with the exception of the 1814 farm house.
He noted that he couldn’t operate the business without the assistance of a lot of key people. His brother, George and daughter Beth have been of great help; as has Gloria Crockett and her sister, Esther. He said of long-time pruner, Beverly Blake, “This is her program, as far as she has shaped the trees.”
Asked how it has been different without his father, Ira said, “There have been times when I might want to ask, for confidence sake, about frosts or thinning. I miss him. That goes the same for both of my parents.”
While he misses his parents’ advice, it is obvious Ira paid attention to what they had to teach him about operating the orchard, and Gibson’s will likely continue providing Bethel and the surrounding area apples for years to come.