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Apple orchard owners battle frost, hail and insects during first year of ownership

La Plata County family learned lessons, is focused on successes
June Frost, 3, picks an apple last week at Happy Apple Orchard that her parents Danica and Zach Frost own on County Road 513, north of Oxford. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Ten years ago, when she was visiting her sister in Bayfield, Danica Frost had a picture taken in front of a sign at the old Bayfield Farmers Market site that read “Fresh Colorado Peaches.”

Fast forward to 2021, and Frost and her husband, Zach, found that sign as they were cleaning out a barn on their new property in Oxford.

On the web

Happy Apple Orchard

1530 County Road 513

www.happyappleorchard.com

The peach sign belonged to the Gott Brothers Orchard, which sold local apples grown on their property, as well as fruit and vegetables from Grand Junction.

The Gotts sold their property in 2016, then the Frosts took over the operation in early June.

The apple trees were blossoming, and it seemed like they were on track for an excellent harvest this fall.

Then a late frost arrived, followed by a July hail storm. And it turns out, it’s not just people who like juicy apples grown at high altitudes, it’s coddling moths, as well, and their worms have been eating some of this year’s crop.

Danica Frost walks through Happy Apple Orchard that she owns with her husband, Zach Frost, with their daughter, June Frost, 3, last week on the orchard near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Happy Apple Orchard is near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

So this year’s harvest isn’t quite what they were hoping for. Some apples still hang on trees, but some are bruised and have soft spots.

The couple knows there are no guarantees in farming, and they point to this year’s successes: An adopt-a-tree program has been highly successful, and they hosted an autumn harvest party in September that sold out.

“We want a place where people can pick apples and just hang out and enjoy a picnic and the view,” Danica Frost said, surveying the property’s sweeping vistas of the Pine River Valley, and in the distance, the Florida Mesa. “We want it to be a friendly place.”

Although they knew farming isn’t the easiest way to make a living, having space for their 3-year-old daughter to play, along with two friendly Labrador retrievers and another baby on the way, was important for them. The Happy Apple hens, as she calls their flock of chickens, scratch away around the trees, enjoying both apples that have fallen to the ground and this summer’s worms. Bees buzz around the farm, which is organically managed.

Happy Apple Orchard is near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Happy Apple Orchard is near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Danica, a former events manager who also runs a catering business, hopes to expand their event space so they can host small weddings, birthdays and family getaways without having to charge high fees to their clients.

With the damage to this year’s crop, there isn’t much fruit left, so the you-pick season is winding down.

The rest of this year’s apples will be harvested and sent to Fenceline Cider in Mancos to be brewed into hard cider.

During more productive apple years, Happy Apple Orchard will press and sell its own non-alcoholic cider.

In the meantime, the Frosts have lots of pruning they need to do this winter on the 2,800 apple and pear trees on their 18 acres. Zach Frost said they knew when they purchased the property it was going to involve a lot of hard work and maintenance, particularly to convert to organic methods of growing.

June Frost, 3, picks apples last week at Happy Apple Orchard that her parents Danica and Zach Frost own near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
June Frost, 3, shows her basket of apples at Happy Apple Orchard. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

They want to expand the variety of fruit grown in the orchard, as well as plant more in their vegetable garden, possibly growing a pumpkin patch for next autumn.

They are researching the best way to reduce the worms from the coddling moths next year, as well. There are organic sprays, which they’re not sure they can afford, as well as traps, or the bases of the trees can be wrapped in cardboard to keep the moths from laying their eggs there. When the eggs hatch, the worms climb up the tree, then burrow into the apples.

They hope placing beehives and bird feeders throughout the operation can help the orchard produce fruit more sustainably, without heavy-duty chemicals.

“We want more life in the orchard,” Danica Frost said.

Purchasing a tree dedication helps them get the operating capital to do that. An adoption costs $100 and includes 5 pounds of fruit from the adopter’s tree.

Frost also wrote a children’s book, “Dani Long Legs and the Happy Apple Orchard,” which they sell at their location.

A Halloween costume party is planned on Oct. 30 with snacks, games, crafts and prizes for children.

Happy Apple Orchard is near Oxford on County Road 513. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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