Highland Orchards Farm Market

  (Wilmington, Delaware)
We are a small family-run farm in Wilmington, DE; since 1832!

Bringing In The Harvest In May

May started out imitating the first half of April—cold and wet, and cold and wet. We snagged a warm day, then chilly and windy nights threatened early plantings. Finally, starting the second half of the month—it warmed up!

I always feel like a merry-go-round in May—start seeds, transplant, plant, repeat! Cucumber plants started in April started bearing cucumbers on May 15. Tomato plants started in the high tunnel started ripening May 16. Lettuce, basil, arugula, and baby bok choy continue their cycles in the hydroponics house. Zucchini and patty pan squashes are now planted and should start harvest in just a few weeks. The chard in the high tunnel is doing great—we are getting excellent cuts for our CSA shares.

The first fruit of the year started as we had hoped, just in time for Mother’s Day. And then it poured rain for the next two days. My obsession with the weather reached new highs, for rain and strawberries are not a great combination. Fortunately, the rain system seems to be working its way away from us and it is warming up, so the berries will ripen faster. We are crossing our fingers for great picking next week. We are always looking for ways to extend strawberry season; no matter how long strawberries are here, it does not seem long enough.

May is for flowers! We started cutting peonies in mid-May, and all the bedding plants moved from the greenhouses to the display area. Native perennials, dicentra, dahlias, begonias, calibrachoas, geraniums, black eyed Susans, and so many more—old favorites and new varieties make for a feast for the eyes. Lots of herbs, cucumber, chard, kale, lettuce, squash, eggplant, and pepper plants are available to fill out your garden spaces.

We finished planting the new orchard trees—cherry, Asian pears, and plums. We are excited about many of the varieties planted. It is hard to wait patiently for the next 3 years to see how these varieties grow, produce, and, most importantly, taste!

The new herb house is dedicated to sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. This is an unheated hoop house, and the herbs are very happy. The covering protects the herbs from weeds, wind, and excess water. Although it is unheated, the covering provides a few degrees protection which helps the plants produce earlier in the season and later in the season, especially once the nights cool off in the fall. Basil, parsley, and cilantro are still growing abundantly in the hydro house. We are very please with our herb harvests—we have been able to put basil in CSA shares already twice this year.

Asparagus and rhubarb are two crops that do fine with the roller coaster weather of warm/cold, wet/dry. They just keep on growing. What brings dormancy for both of these is very hot weather—high 80s and low 90s—which typically happens the end of May or early June. And 92 is predicted for May 29… We enjoy the wonderful flavor of fresh asparagus, whether raw, roasted, sautéed, marinated, or lightly steamed. What’s your favorite? It is a short season!

One noticeable difference is in the quantity of produce harvested from the fields—three and four times the amount. More daylight hours and warmer temperatures help the plants produce dramatically more and more quickly. Scallions are mature in 28 days, cilantro and basil cuts are every 4 days. We are thrilled to be the recipients of our plants’ bounty!

Thanks, again, to all of our great customers. You keep us motivated to keep growing. You are what farm-to-table is all about! Eat fresh—eat local—eat well!


Is a CSA right for you?

The concept of “Community Supported Agriculture” was first started in this country in 1986. The goal was to connect consumers with a local grower so that the customers purchased a “share” of the harvest. Customers placed their orders in early spring to help finance the purchase of seeds and to pay for labor before the farmer started harvesting and selling. In return, customers received a generous share of the weekly harvest as a return on their investment.

Every farm puts a slightly different twist on their CSA program, so it is important to find out the details of the program before you jump in. We have modified the traditional Community Supported Agriculture program to fit the needs of our customers in our community and our farm.

Eating seasonally, supporting a local farm, having fresh vegetables in the house—it all sounds great—but will it work for your household?

Is a CSA right for you? Good question! We can explore that question with some additional questions.

First, what can a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share do for you?

Here is what some current shareholders say:

  • I know the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?”
  • I like the flexibility in scheduling.
  • I try new vegetables that I might not have considered.
  • I don’t miss anything that has a short season—like strawberries!
  • I can send my son to pick up my share and he comes home with food.
  • Everything tastes better; even my kids eat your vegetables.

Second, do you enjoy cooking with fresh ingredients?

A CSA is all about fresh. Every week is different. We post lots of recipes for what is in your CSA. And you get to do the cooking. It doesn’t have to be fancy—although it can be—and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it does require preparation and cooking. Many of the recipes we post are straight forward, easy to prepare, and popular with the whole family. We also post online what is in the shares each week, as well as post a video of what is in the shares, to help you identify each item.

We suggest starting with a Small share so that you can see how you work your way through the vegetables. 70% of our members get a Small share. 

If you eat out a fair amount or it's just you or your family is new to eating vegetables, you may want to get a share every other week.

If you juice or fix your lunch daily as well as dinner, you may want to change to a Large share. Some people like the variety in the large share and find someone to split a large share with them.

You have the option, with our program, to put your share on “Hold” if you are going to be away or need to skip a week. You will not be charged for that week or weeks and you start again on the chosen date.

Finally, do you enjoy trying something new?

With our program, you will get some vegetables that are a little different… sometimes. Not too many at once and not all the time. And we will give you some recipe suggestions when we do. Many of our CSA customers have discovered new favorites this way: baby bok choy, fresh beets, kohlrabi, parsnips, and others. You still get the classic favorites—asparagus, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, basil, peaches, green beans, fresh lettuce, etc.—along with something new. The best of both worlds!

Is a CSA right for you? Try it and see.


In Honor of the Women in Our History

Mary Pauline Connell Webster

So many family stories are told from the father’s point of view. Particularly in farming. In my family, I am fortunate to have a long line of strong women who stood in equal partnership with the men in the family and brought highly valued skills to the family and to the business of farming. For Women’s History Month I want to turn the spotlight on Mary Pauline Connell Webster, my great-grandmother.

Born March 4, 1872, in Ashland, Delaware, to Charles Barington Connell (1846-1916) and Emma Evans Bradford (1851-1903), Mary Pauline Connell arrived in a time of great change.  The Connells were farmers and had seven children, two boys and five girls. Mary Pauline’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the early 1840s (potato famine drove this migration).  The second oldest of seven, Mary Pauline worked from a young age on her family’s farm.

The year she was born, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors and Yellowstone became the first national park in the world. Jules Verne wrote “Around the World in Eighty Days” and Ulysses S. Grant was re-elected as President. Almost half of the country worked on a farm. Kerosene lamps provided light and fireplaces provided warmth. Grasshopper plagues in the west and an economic depression throughout the country overshadowed the 1870s. The country’s population was about 38 million. By 1890, the population was about 63 million, and farmers were about 43% of the labor force.

The Connells were fairly isolated, as were most farm families. No radios, telephones, newspapers, nor mail reached the rural areas. Going to the big city of Wilmington (population about 62,000 in 1890) for market days helped them catch up on news and meet people. The Connell family lived near Brackinville, a hamlet in 1870, named after William Brackin and his hotel, the area now designated part of Hockessin.

It was at the King Street farmers market that the feisty Mary Pauline first saw John Webster. It would have taken her family several hours to get to the market by wagon, but this was closer than going to Philadelphia to sell produce. Mary Pauline would shell peas and toss some at that handsome farmer in the next booth to get his attention.

When John Webster went courting, he rode his horse over streams and hills to get there. Sometimes he stayed overnight because of the distance. Only 11 miles away, but on horseback that translates to over 2 hours each way, depending on weather.

During a time when young women were married at 16 or 18 or 20, Miss Connell was an old maid at 25. John, at 34, was also “old” to be getting married for the first time. Apparently, they were equal in stubbornness and determination.

John attended Siloam Methodist Episcopal Church on Faulk Road, and persuaded the minister, Rev. J. W. Tyndall, to come to the Connell’s home on Christmas Day, 1897, to marry them.

Mary Pauline worked in the field to harvest crops along with her husband. She had a lean-to for a kitchen, a large fireplace and a small bake oven in the wall next to the fireplace. No indoor plumbing yet. The oats were harvested by hand with sickle and scythe. The grass was cut by hand with sickle and scythe. Horses pulled the plow, cultivator or wagon. Clothes were made with a foot-pumped treadle sewing machine. She had a loom for weaving cloth. The 50-acre farm kept them busy and provided a good living for the family.

Mary P had a green thumb and could coax anything to grow. She planted and harvested the vegetables for the family and for the farmers market. Mary P continued to go to the farmers market twice each week to sell produce. And she loved flowers! Food for the soul. She planted lilac bushes at the entrance to the farm, lining the driveway.

Mary Pauline was close enough to her older sister to name her first daughter, Lillian, after her. Her second child in July 1901 a boy, was named after his father, John Coleman Webster. This was a scary time for infants—diphtheria, measles, or whooping cough killed many children each year. An outbreak of smallpox in 1902 and a flu epidemic in 1903 wreaked havoc on the population. Mary Pauline’s mother died in 1903 at the age of 52, possibly a flu victim. Mary Pauline was determined to do the best that she possibly could, at a time when there were few aids for sick children, and she nursed that baby for two and a half years to protect him as much as possible.

I try to imagine the determination it took for Mary P to send her daughter to the University of Pennsylvania in 1915. A girl. A farm girl. Going to college. Mary P and her husband, John, were both educated in one-room schoolhouses, and then were self-educated in the School of Life. They saw the merit of a college education for their daughter. Lillian’s brother, John Webster, Jr., always bragged about how smart his sister was. What a lovely heritage--to come from a family that valued the girls as much as the boys. Lillian went on to be a full-time teacher and married a university professor.

In 1908 Henry Ford launched production of the Model T. In a few years, the Websters added a Model T to their household. Radio broadcasts starting in 1921, coupled with a car, lessened the isolation of the farm family. Faulk Road (later spelled Foulk Road) was still a dirt road. Farms now could have mail delivered.

In 1931, Mary P’s husband was killed in a farm accident, when John was thrown by a startled horse pulling a cultivator. He was 68. She decided she was ready to turn the planting, reaping, churning, baking, harvesting, over to her son, John, and his wife, Rachel. John Jr. built a cottage onto the main house so that Mary P had her privacy.

Accustomed to a busy life, Mary P looked around for something to do. She had always loved art and had dreamed of having time for drawing and painting. She started taking painting classes at the Wilmington Art Center. And thrived. She stopped lessons after a few months and began painting on her own and with a group of painters called The Studio Group. Mary P decided to treat herself to a trip to Vienna in 1936 to study art and took one of her granddaughters with her. Unfortunately, the Nazi buildup cut short their trip, so they returned to England and sailed home, encountering two hurricanes at sea on the return trip.

Mary P started exhibiting her work and started winning prizes. She went to Florida for the winter and painted there. Her work was on display at the Ringling Art Exhibit in Sarasota, Florida, and various shows in Wilmington, Delaware. Her work was collected by institutions, including the Delaware Art Center and the Wilmington Society for Fine Arts, as well as individuals. She decided to “retire” to Florida, and spent most of the year painting and enjoying the sunshine. Her daughter had a home nearby, and her son started coming every winter.

When Mary Pauline died in 1957, cars were everywhere, television was in most homes, newspapers were delivered, mail was finally delivered everywhere, party-line telephones were the norm, movies were common, and one could travel easily by train or by plane. Farmers were 12% of the labor force, on their way to a becoming rare segment of the 150 million people in the United States. Mary P adapted to each of these developments and embraced them for the benefit of her family and herself. She was a strong woman who left us a legacy of family, confidence, integrity, talent. She showed her family how to seek out opportunities and find fulfillment in all that you do. Mary Pauline Connell Webster lived her life with courage and integrity—every day, month, and year. Her history is an integral part of our story and why we can be here today.

~ Ruth 


March is Women's History Month

In Honor of Women’s History Month

In addition to honoring those women who have changed the world, I think it is important to honor those women who have been so important in our individual lives. I present to you Rachel Louise Rotthouse, who married John Coleman Webster, Jr., my grandmother.

Born in 1908, Rachel grew up on Cherrywood Farm located just off Concord Pike, in the area now known as Blue Rock Manor. Her grandparents immigrated from Germany, and her father was the first born in the United States in 1879. Rachel attended the one-room, multi-grade school on Concord Pike, and learned all about farming. She learned how to make cheese and sausage, how to plant and harvest, how to preserve the harvest for the long winter months. She always loved reading and learning, and Rachel became the teacher in that one-room school.

Rachel caught the eye of a young farmer, John Webster, and he talked her into marrying him in 1924. She moved into the large farmhouse with his parents. The kitchen was a lean to, there was not yet indoor plumbing, and the to-do list on the farm was miles long. The 1920s saw the addition of three children, with two more following in the 1930s. In addition to raising food for themselves, produce and meat were raised to sell at the King Street Farmers Market in Wilmington. Rachel made sausage to sell there, as well as cottage cheese, as well as making bouquets of flowers. She raised the children, made the meals, canned vegetables and fruits for winter eating, sewed all the girls’ clothes, and kept the farm going.

In her spare time (what spare time?!), Rachel started painting. And she entered her paintings in local shows, and frequently won awards. She studied with various teachers, including Henriette Wyeth (older sister of Andrew Wyeth). Her paintings were added to many local collections, including the Hotel du Pont. And when the children were grown, Rachel taught herself to play the organ, and she served as her church’s organist for many years.

During the 1930, not only was the economy a mess, but agriculture suffered from ferocious climactic events: the 1933 hurricane, peach blight, drought. Rachel’s skills in small vegetable farming and preserving the harvest through canning were vital in ensuring that the family survived.

In those days before penicillin, staying healthy was a challenge. Herbs, juicing, and natural remedies were key elements that Rachel employed. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and the flu were just a few things that they had to get through. When her husband fell from a tree and broke his back, Rachel tended him and the farm and the family. His recovery was due in large part to her care.

Rachel’s commitment to her five daughters’ education was unwavering. They were expected to do well in school. They all had farm chores to do, but schoolwork was always at the top of the list. All of her children went to college.

Of course, growing up I as a grandchild did not ponder what a wonderful role model Rachel Webster was. Someone who was talented in many areas, self-taught in many areas, continued to learn her whole life, gave generously of her time to others, was a dedicated teacher to her family and to others, and was unfailingly patient, polite, and courteous—what a wonderful person! For me, she was simply “Grandmom.” We loved her great cooking and terrific pies. There were always games to play and stories to be told when we visited. She showed us how to help in the kitchen (I suspect we made more mess than helped) or how to sew a skirt. She loved us, which is the greatest gift of all. I can look back now and appreciate the gift of a life well-lived.

~ Ruth


Bringing in the harvest in February 2019

February 1 started with a brisk 5 degrees in the morning and a high of 18 degrees. And an unexpected, unpredicted all-day snow flurry that made everything just a little slick. Just to make sure that we knew winter was really here.

February brings us noticeably longer days, and we are back in the magic 10-hours of daylight days (10 hours being the minimum that vegetable plants need to keep growing). And we are getting our January thaw in February, with 50 degree days on the 3rd and 4th. That make everyone, including the plants, a little happier around here.

And while it is windy, cold, snowy, or other weather quirks outside, we are able to harvest lots of greens inside. We are learning A LOT about hydroponic growing, and expect to continue learning the ins and outs of hydro growing for a few years. We have harvested most of the first seeding and a lot of the second planting, with the third round of harvesting coming up quickly. Some of the plants are “one and done”—lettuce and baby bok choy, for example. Baby bok choy has grown well and the harvest has been excellent. We have had the first salad mix cut and will And other plants are “cut and come again”—arugula, spinach, kale, and chard, for example. We have already had three cuts of arugula, two cuts of spinach, and the first cuts of kale and chard. We are trying to track time from seed to harvest and the volume of harvest per channel. And we are observing fascinating differences in growth rate from January to February.

Our heated high tunnel with plants in the ground is performing as expected (already spent the time learning how to grow in this environment!). Kale, chard, Brussel sprouts, lettuces, scallions, mustard greens, and thyme have been growing reliably. Being able to cut baby chard regularly has been a hit with our customers. The lettuce is all done, just in time for the hydro lettuce to start. Brussel sprout plants look great, but will be coming out soon to make room for the tomato plants that are growing beautifully in the hydro house. The sweet pea flowers took a hit one very cold night (of course, THAT was the night the heater had a problem!), but somehow recovered enough to produce flowers this week. Fresh flowers are an amazing treat in the winter—well, any time, but especially in the winter.

Meanwhile, the mapping out of March planting is about done. Herbs in tunnel 1, transplant kale and chard to tunnel 2, plant tomatoes in the high tunnel, scallions in tunnel 3. Thousands of lettuce plants in hydro house.

The last week of February brought harvests of dill, bibb lettuce, baby bok choy, arugula, cilantro, leaf lettuce, kale, Chard, scallions, Brussel sprouts, beets, thyme, parsley. And the last week of February brought lots of planting—tomatoes, kale, chard, thyme, mint, oregano, sage, chives, parsley, cilantro, basil. And more lettuce.


Bringing in the harvest

We have been expanding our winter growing over the past 20 years, trying to keep up with the demand for fresh vegetables in the six months of the year that are not famous for producing much. At all. We have found that people enjoy eating all year, and our customers, accustomed to eating really fresh produce all summer, do not want to give up great taste in the winter. As a small farm, we scramble to grow as much as we possibly can during the standard growing months.

First we added row covers. Then low tunnels. Then high tunnels. Then a heated high tunnel. Then two heated high tunnels. And all of these helped, and we grew more winter produce than ever before. I have spent a lot of time studying daylight hours and nighttime and daytime temperatures needed for different crops to keep them growing and what crops grow best in protected winter conditions. And still the demand was ahead of us. Learning to grow in the winter has been a big learning curve. Very, very different from summer.

This year we are trying something completely different. Yet another learning curve! Who says old farmers can’t learn new tricks?!? Hydroponic growing—maximum growing in a small concentrated area, with greater production per week than we have seen previously, with consistent, high-quality, pesticide-free produce. More efficient, more productive, organically grown. Sounds just right, doesn’t it? However, just like regular farming, it is more complicated than you might think.

We ordered all the channels, trays, pipers, water tank, etc., cleaned out one of the heated high tunnels, installed the water tank, and then set up the germination station and tables and growing channels. First, the water tank leaked. Dig it back out (500 gallon tank, half-buried), replace a cap ($2 part…). Germination station is working great, fire up the heater because it is about to get cold and….the heater does not work. The tiny seedlings are doing well on the heated mats, and it is not too awful at night yet, but cold nights are coming! Our great heater guys (Ferro & Co.) were working nearly every day to get the heater back up and running properly. Finally—done! Works great. Then transplant the seedlings into the growing channels, get the water flowing throughout, make sure the mix of nutrition is correct, monitor the high-low temperatures in the house, hold our breath that everything works right for the 4-degree nights, and plant more seedlings.

Now we are observing what is growing well, what grows quickly, what is struggling. We will have months of experimenting. We are already close to harvest for arugula and spinach.

In the meantime, the other heated high tunnel has its traditional rows of kale, chard, onions, herbs, peas, lettuces, and more. All of these were planted in early fall and are ready for harvest.

January has turned out to be a combination of using our traditionally stored root crops and apples, traditionally grown vegetables in heated and unheated tunnels, and starting thousands of seeds in a new (for us) growing style. Our hydroponic house is forcing us to be more organized, and it is opening up more growing options. I love having options! And to walk into the hydroponic greenhouse on a dreary January day and see thousands of plants growing is immensely satisfying.


A reflection on December

December—An End and a Beginning

December is the month of dwindling daylight. I understand why so many animals hibernate or semi-hibernate. It feels as if everything is coming to an end. The growing season is ending; the world is ending. Okay, an exaggeration. But dark at 4:30? The rainy and gray days take a toll on everyone. The plants outside just sit there…not dying, not growing. Our calendar year is ending, which is a natural time to look back over the year and assess what went as planned, what did not, what was successful, what was not, what do we want to do differently?

And then--what a relief to get past the Winter Solstice and start increasing our daylight, minute by precious minute. And because growing is what I like most of all, we look at ways to circumvent nature and winter weather. The trees and fruit bushes will stay dormant, but growing vegetables in the high tunnels and heated greenhouses is rewarding. The greenhouses are warmed with passive solar heat, and on a sunny day can be 80 degrees. Night time temperatures are 50, perfect for the lettuce, chard, kale, and other greens currently residing in the greenhouse. 

This year, December is the month of assembling the hydroponic system in one of the greenhouses. Tables are up, getting leveled, and channels installed for growing. Ready to set up the germination table and get things growing. This is a new project for us, and we are excited about the possibilities. We hope the reality of growing hydroponically matches the hype.

And yes, it is time for end of year clean up. We have started pruning raspberries and apples. Pruning continues through the winter months so that by spring time everything is trimmed, tidy, and ready for the work of growing. Old vegetable plants are tilled under, stakes and trellises are pulled out, leaf mulch is collected, the manure pile is turned. 


November is Transition to Winter

November is our noticeable change in daylight hours, with dark creeping in earlier in the evening (late afternoon?!?) and making me want to hibernate.  But November still has plenty of work to do, so we can’t nap yet.

If you check The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the list of garden clean up is pretty much what we do in November: clean root crops of dirt and store in a cool, dark place; clip the tops off beets, parsnips, turnips, and carrots so they stay fresher; clean fall squash of dirt and store in a cool, dark place; dig up, clean, and store dahlia tubers and gladiola bulbs in a cool, dark place (you see the theme of “cool, dark”); clean out dead plants and vines; destroy slug egg masses (slugs are never on my “keep” list).

Clean all tools. Check all tractors and equipment. Now is the time to do repairs and maintenance. Spring rush comes sooner than we think every year!

Test the soil, add sulfur or lime to adjust the pH as needed.

Inspect all the trees. What might need to come out? Where will trees be planted in the spring?

Then there is the planting list: garlic, spring flowering bulbs, greens in the hoop houses and greenhouses. This year, trying to plant when it has not been raining or the fields are so muddy you sink in has been a challenge.

We harvest outside usually through December: lettuces, chard, dandelion greens, arugula, kale, mustard greens, spinach, scallions, beets, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts. November is a race against the falling temperatures. Many of these crops are good to 20 degrees, but you never know when we will get an unusually early Arctic blast!

This year, we are starting a new greenhouse project, which means this month we are working to prepare for it. We are cleaning out one heated greenhouse, will install a 500-gallon water tank, and are waiting for all the parts for a new system. This new system will increase productivity to help meet the demand for clean, organically grown produce (thank you to all our customers who support our farm—this is for you!) in an energy-efficient and labor-efficient way. We are all excited about this and I can hardly wait for it to be up and running. You will hear more about this in February.

And November, of course, brings Thanksgiving, our national day of feasting! The first three weeks are preparation for Thanksgiving: taking turkey orders, coordinating with our turkey growers; taking pie orders, planning the baking schedule; harvesting everything that was planned out long ago in March so that there are plenty of sweet potatoes, potatoes, sage, thyme, parsley, green beans, and broccoli (and everything else). And did I say pie orders? And more pie orders, and donut orders, and last minute turkey orders?

After Thanksgiving? We catch our breath, and relax a little. But only a little. Winter harvest is underway and spring planning has started. What will be different for 2019? We sure hope that the weather will be different! Normal rainfall instead of 2x the rain would be nice. I feel like we haven’t dried out all year! We have no control over the rain, so we focus on what we can control: what will we plant and where, what will go in greenhouses or hoop houses, what will be new, what was successful and should be repeated.

We had our first snow storm on November 15—what a surprise! That definitely put us on notice that winter is upon us. The winter season brings a needed dormancy for the fruit trees and brambles, a good reminder that we all need a little rest so that we can have the energy needed for the busy days of spring, summer, and fall. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we give thanks for getting through another year, for the loyalty of our customers, for the support of our community and friends, for the hard work of our staff, and for the many members of our family. We hope you have as many things to be thankful for as we do. Happy Thanksgiving!


October Means Overcoming Obstacles

There are a lot of different ways to say it. In A Mood. Cranky. Difficult. Needs A Nap (sign me up, please!). By the end of October, we are all tired. And tired people are…cranky, to pick one of those phrases. This year, with twice the normal rainfall and a serious deficit of sunshine, everyone is cranky. Customers, staff, even the bees are cranky right now.

We should have planted rice this year. There was a bumper crop of squirrels, foxes, raccoons, crows, and mice this year. Produce did not keep as well because of all the rain. The squirrels destroyed a lot of pears and pumpkins. Sudden and serious illnesses wreaked havoc among the staff, causing extra work for everyone else.

So now it is time for the pep talks to keep us going and keep us smiling. How do we do that?

One of our core values is we take care of each other, including staff, families, customers, friends, and community. When one becomes sick, everyone steps up and covers that person’s work. When a customer became ill at the store recently, an employee drove him home and stayed with his wife until an ambulance came (and the customer has recovered, we are happy to hear). Knowing that everyone is ready to help as needed makes me very grateful for our community, and gratitude goes a long way towards getting rid of crankiness.

We know that the weather is beyond everyone’s control. So we are very excited to be starting a new greenhouse project which will increase productivity, reduce work stress, and provide fantastic produce for our customers—all without having to deal with weather extremes! Looking forward to this is a great way to move moodiness out.

And for the last day of October, the weather is moderate, the sun is shining, and there are plenty of mums to visit, so perhaps the bees will be a little less cranky. It is now only three weeks till Thanksgiving when all will be complete chaos with fresh turkeys, fresh pies, and all the trimmings. We look at all those orders and are happy that so many families are able to come together and give thanks. And we are grateful that our customers think of Highland Orchards as their source for great food to feed their families and friends.

So, we jump from 85 degrees to 55 degrees, deal with the wildlife, eat a cider donut when it rains, and we are grateful for our customers, our employees, our friends, and our families. I feel better, don’t you?

Happy and safe Halloween to all!

~ Ruth 



My Grandfather

                                          John Webster Remembered

John Webster was born July 1, 1901, and died on September 13, 1990. His life began in the horse and buggy era and ended in the space era. He ran the family farm, first with his father, and then with his wife and five daughters.  He broadened the horizons of the family farm, taking produce to the King’s Street Farmers Market, building homes in the community, creating a dairy herd, and becoming a peach orchard specialist. He was involved in his community, hiring people in the 1930s who were desperate for work and for food, teaching Sunday School at church, a leader in the Delaware and Pennsylvania Farm Bureaus.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to know John Webster all have a story to tell. I remember planting peach trees with my grandfather when he was “retired,” and wondering why he was planting more trees now. “Because people will want good peaches to eat when these are ready,” he replied. John Webster’s ability to look ahead was phenomenal and laid the foundation for what we are able to do today.

John Webster told us stories of horrific crop failures in the 1930s. Not only was the economy a mess (The Great Depression), but agriculture was hard hit with freak weather which destroyed entire crops. He described the determination that it took to keep on farming and to overcome the catastrophe of losing crops three years in a row. I learned that farmers have to be strong in spirit as well as in body.

My mother remembers the story of his foot being crushed by a boulder when he was digging out a foundation for a house in the 1920s (pre X-rays, pre-antibiotics, pre-a lot of medical advances). He refused to go to the doctor, fearing that the doctor would amputate the foot. Instead, John Webster bound up that foot and continued to work, limping along. Eventually the foot healed, and he worked another half-century as a farmer.

His great-grandchildren remember that he read Aesop’s Fables to them. John Webster loved books, reading, learning, and sharing his wisdom with others. Folk tales and stories were particular favorites with him.

When John tried to enlist for service in World War I (underage), he was sent home, told that his work as a farmer would be an important service to his country. When World War II rolled around (too old), he was recruited as an advisor to help farmers achieve maximum production.

The Ivanson family remembers that John Webster sponsored her family after World War II. They came from Latvia—grandparents, parents, and children. They had horror stories to tell of what happened to them, their village, and their country. The daughter still stops by to tell us how grateful she is for my grandparents’ sponsorship of her family. A place to live, jobs, education, helping the children get to college, and acceptance into this community in Delaware—all of these things were given freely to them by John and Rachel Webster.

Another person remembers that John Webster hired him as a teenager in the 1930s: a teen who got into trouble, didn’t know anything, and had no family support. John Webster gave him that emotional support, taught him skills, taught him how to be a responsible person and how to contribute to society. He is a successful business owner, family man, and is involved in his community, and gives a lot of credit to John Webster’s leadership.

When he established his dairy herd in the 1930s, John Webster chose the name “Highland Orchards” for the farm name, to honor his Scottish ancestors who came to America in the 1760s as well as to show his personal interest in fruit trees. He loved his peach trees. The farm on Foulk Road was known both as Webster’s and as Highland Orchards.

For my former church organist, it was remembering him as her Sunday School Superintendent and what a kind man he was. For a Delaware Department of Agriculture employee, it was remembering John Webster as an advisor to the governor.

Although John Webster had taken produce to the Wilmington King’s Street Farmers Market for over 20 years, he saw that the community was changing after World War II. More people were coming to the farm and more people were moving out of the city and closer to the farm (more cars everywhere!). He set up a Sales Room in the barn about 1950 to sell to the customers who came here. This was the foundation for our current market.

John Webster set a sterling example for his family, his friends, his customers, his church students, his employees—all who came into his orbit—of acting with integrity, keeping his word, acting with compassion, maintaining a lifelong desire to learn, treating others with respect and dignity, helping the less fortunate. He set an example of planning ahead, being cautious about spending but generous when giving, and treating others well. He was an inspiration to many, and respected and loved by all who knew him.

Although it has now been 28 years since John Webster passed on, we remember his example and lessons every day on the farm. I am honored that he is my grandfather, and I hope that I can live up to the standards that he set for himself.


Barn swallows, foxes, and the peacock in August

August. It’s the beginning of the end of summer.

August 2 is the mid-point between the beginning of summer and the beginning of autumn. Summer harvests are in full swing. The first apples are picked at the end of the first week of August; the first pears are picked at the beginning of the second week; the first spaghetti and butternut squash are picked the end of the third week; more pears and apples are picked by the fourth week. And we are still picking zucchini and beans, peaches and plums. August is the high point for peaches in flavor, quantity, and juiciness, AND it is the start of apple season—Ginger Gold, Jonamac, Early Goldens, Early Galas. First cider pressing. August is also the push to get fall crops planted. We are racing daylight hours and nighttime temperatures for the plants to reach maturity before those delightfully cool nights halt plant growth. And this year, August has given us extra hot, extra humid days and nights for the last week of the month, so all of the seeds and young plants are growing quickly.

If we have forgotten to look at the calendar, the animals remind us that August is the month of big changes.

By the first of August, the peacock starts to shed his beautiful, long tail feathers. Within 10 days, the tail feathers have all dropped and George looks a little funny. He starts to grow new feathers in September, and by the first of March, the peacock is gorgeous again, just in time for spring mating season. Growing new feathers actually helps with insulation for the winter.

This year, we have watched some fox kits that have been kicked out by momma fox—time to hunt for yourself! The young ones are not good at hunting yet, are not savvy enough to stay out of sight, and pretty scruffy looking. We see them frequently around the farm, even during daylight hours. The adult fox, who is in gorgeous summer coat of a brilliant red color, is rarely seen. The young ones will need to learn how to trap their natural prey—rabbits and rodents—if they are to survive this winter. Although the foxes check out the chickens frequently, the fencing and chicken coop have held secure.

At the end of August, our graceful barn swallows leave us to begin their 9000-mile migration to South America (no border checks for them!). A bird that weighs one-half to three-quarters of an ounce flies to South America…and back. Completely fascinating! We love our barn swallows. One reason is because they consume thousands of insects, but their grace and speed while flying are mesmerizing. We always watch the last fledglings carefully. It seems there is one nest that cuts it close, and the babies start to fly one day before that August 22-25 departure. And that happened this year. The babies were still in the nest on August 21, started to fly on the 22nd, and departed for South America on the 23rd. How do the swallows know it is August 23? Daylight hours? We miss them as soon as they are gone, because the insect population increases immediately. The babies who hatched this summer will return next summer and refurbish the nests for the next generation. It feels oddly quiet with the swallows gone. It will be April 22-25 when they return.

August is a sneaky transition from summer to almost fall. By the end of the month, we have over 1 hour less of daylight than at the beginning of August. School starts. Two thirds of the year is gone. Everyone is getting ready to celebrate the holiday weekend for Labor Day…and fall is peeking around the corner.

~ Ruth ~



How to Keep Fruit Fresh


Peaches will soften in 1-2 days on the counter. To hasten the process, put them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple; watch carefully because they can go from ripe to over ripe very quickly. Use within a day or refrigerate. Use within 4-5 days from the refrigerator. Peaches will continue to slowly soften in the refrigerator and they will gradually dehydrate, so you do not want to leave them in the fridge too long. You are better off putting your peaches in the fridge, and then putting them on the counter to ripen rather than putting ripe peaches in the fridge. Do not wash your peaches and then store them - the water encourages rotting. As we come to the end of the peach season, it is especially important to follow the above guidelines. End-of-season peaches will not get as soft as mid-season peaches. If you are waiting for soft peaches, stop; they won't happen - you'll get mealy peaches instead. Leave the peaches out for 1-2 days and then eat. 


Honeydew and cantaloupe should be kept refrigerated after they reach the desired ripe stage, no more than 1 day sitting out. Cantaloupe will have a yellow/orangish under-color to show when they are ripe (smelling or pushing the end are not accurate methods). Honeydew will lose their fuzzy feeling and become waxy feeling. You can cut up the melon and store the pieces in the refrigerator for a week. The whole melon will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Whole watermelon will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Cut watermelon pieces will keep in the refrigerator for 5-6 days. Whole watermelon will keep unrefrigerated for 1 day. 


Apples keep best at 33 degrees believe it or not. Since most people don't have cold storage options that stay at 33 degrees, the fridge is your best bet. Apples will keep in the fridge for about 4 weeks, depending on the time of year and the variety (the harder the apple and the less storage time before reaching you, the longer the apples will keep). 

When left at room temperature, apples will continue to ripen; they are constantly releasing carbon dioxide and ethylene gas and will wither in 2-4 days. Think of how bananas go from green to yellow to brown - that is the banana continuing to ripen; apples are doing the same thing, even though we can't see it. If you like your apples at room temperature, fill your fruit basket the night before with what will be consumed the following day. 

Be nice and keep them refrigerated :)

Basically, when in doubt, refrigerate! 


Grilled Corn & Basil

12 ears of corn, shucked

1/2 cup butter, cut into 12 pieces

36 fresh basil leaves, washed

aluminum foil to wrap corn 

Turn grill on high to preheat.

Cut 12 sheets of aluminum foil sized to wrap each ear of corn tightly. Place each ear on a separate piece of foil.

Place a piece of butter on each ear. Wrap 3 basil leaves around the ear of corn. Roll the foil around the corn to make a tight package. Repeat for each ear.

Place corn on grill for 20 minutes with lid down. Rotate a 1/4 turn every 5 minutes to help cook and flavor evenly.

Remove from grill. Cook for 5 minutes. Carefully unwrap corn and remove basil leaves.


Serves 12

Calories 127, total fat 8.2 g, cholesterol 20 mg, sodium 4 mg, total carbohydrates 14.1 g, protein 2.1 g.

Recipe courtesy of the Delaware Department of Agriculture


Farewell to Schuylkill River Park

It seems very strange to say farewell to Schuylkill River Park. We have been there since the first farmers market started in 2005. We have seen vendors come and go, we have endured construction around the park, and in the park, and next to the park, and we have gotten to know many wonderful people in the community who come out and support our farm through their purchases at the market.

The park is beautiful now, with its renovated pathways, dog park, and plantings. The community garden is full with creative plots. Why would we want to leave?

A simple question with a complicated answer. We are fortunate that our business has grown dramatically over the past decade. We have more CSAs, more restaurants placing orders, more companies wanting to provide produce for their employees, and more business at our home market on the farm.

We have finite resources.

I have rolled this around in my head for quite a while now. My decision affects all of our employees, our customers, and our revenue. It is a major business decision which is overlaid with all the positive feelings I have developed for Schuylkill River Park and the community over the years. Change is inevitable in life, and change is required in business. This is a big change, but it was a big change to start doing off-site farmers markets. My grandparents had taken produce to the King Street Farmers Market in Wilmington, Delaware, for years (my grandfather’s spot was at the corner of 6th and King). It was a change when the family stopped going to the Wilmington market after World War II and sold directly out of the barn, as more people built homes outside of the city limits and closer to the farm. When we started participating in farmers markets in various locations from 2000 to now, it was a new venture for me, and very different from the 1930s markets.

Now, we are embracing this change as an opportunity to strengthen the farm and our family. We wish our customers at Schuylkill River Park all the best, and we hope that you will continue to place orders with us at Honey’s or Metropolitan Bakery or other venues in the area and visit us at Fitler Square on Saturdays.

~ Ruth


Surviving July is all in how you view it

Oh, July! Hot, productive, busy, overwhelming July! Hottest month of the year. Picking raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, peaches, plums, first of the summer apples, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupes, watermelon, corn….all of the summer bounty rushes to ripen and is ready for harvest. The days are packed. July is the fruition of a lot of planning and planting.

Oh yes, and generally the weeds have gone totally crazy by July.

It’s always funny when people ask if we are closed for July 4 (unless it falls on a Sunday, the answer is no). The plants do not take a holiday in July. We have Sundays off (always), but we would be light years behind if we took another day off in July. This year, July 4 is hovering at a balmy 91 degrees after 5 straight days in the 90s—you can practically see the berries ripening in front of your eyes. We close a few hours early to give our employees a chance to spend some time with their families. For family members, it’s a chance to eat dinner before 8 and go to bed early (happy birthday, country, see you in the morning!).

There is a special excitement to July when we welcome each summer fruit or vegetable—heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches, Methley plums (aka “sugar plums”), etc. Bursting with flavor, juicy, nothing like eating fresh. The long daylight hours must imbue extra flavor in these crops, because nothing else seems to taste this good! We are always thrilled when we see crates of tomatoes and flats of berries coming in from the fields.

The end of July usually brings a sense of relief. The intense heat is almost over (night time temperatures start dropping in the next two weeks!). Some of the crops are lessening in their abundance. Picking berries (gooseberries, currants, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) has been a very hot marathon, and the end of July brings picking down to a reasonable level. If we have done it right, we all have eaten an abundance of peaches, blackberries, beans, zucchini, blueberries, etc., and we know we still have some time to feast on these goodies. But we know the end of blueberries is nigh even though peaches will comfort us for another 6 weeks. Green beans are still going strong, but lima beans bring a harbinger of autumn. The first summer apples remind us that September is not far away at all.

It’s hot in July, but that’s ok. It’s summer, and it is supposed to be hot. No point complaining when the peaches, corn, and tomatoes all enjoy the heat. And we get to enjoy the produce! Kick back, eat that watermelon, grill those vegetables, slice those tomatoes, and enjoy your picnic. We only have one month to celebrate July.

~ Ruth


RSS feed for Highland Orchards Farm Market blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader