Hidden Gem Orchard was established in 2017 on land that was formerly part of the Southbury Training School farm. It currently consists of 3,600 apple trees grown on 6 acres. Approximately 3000 trees were planted over a two year period in 2017 and 2018. Smaller amounts were planted in subsequent years.
Presently, 26 apple varieties are grown with more being added each year. Some are “common” varieties that consumers are generally aware of such as Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Gala, Cortland and Fuji. Others are either uncommon or antique apples that are not readily available.
All the trees are grafted on dwarfing rootstock which limits tree size and maximizes planting density. Trees are trained to a Vertical Axe planting system, a training method developed in France in the 1970’s by J.M. Lespinasse. The Vertical Axe tree is made up of a 10-12 ft vertical trunk, along which shorter fruiting branches are regularly distributed. The tree shape tends to be conical (like a Christmas tree).
Trees planted in 2017 produced their first crop in 2019, and production will increase annually as more trees come in to bearing. Apples will be sold directly to the public for the first time in 2021 with plans for an on-site farm stand that will be open from Sept – Nov. Pick your own is not currently available but may be allowed in future years once infrastructure upgrades are complete.
Hidden Gem Orchard is owned by James Wargo of Woodbury CT. He grew up in Woodbury and obtained a B.S. degree in Horticulture from The University of CT. He went on to achieve a Master of Science in Pomology (fruit science) from Cornell University. James has worked in various roles in the fruit industry in the eastern half of the United States for the past 21 years mainly in research and product development. He currently works full time in sales for an agricultural products company based in CA. After living away from CT for nearly 20 years, James returned to his native state in 2017 to embark on a lifelong dream of owning and operating his own fruit farm. It is a dream fulfilled!