It’s the beginning of July, in the middle of the apple grove in St. Jakob. At first glance, you’d think you are looking at grapevines, as the small trees are horizontal and their side branches reach upwards. They are full of fruit: plum-sized, green spheres. Those are Andrea Zampedri’s apples. Today they are green, and in September they’ll turn bright red.
Andrea himself is still somewhat “green”. He is new to apple cultivation: he didn’t begin until 2017. Andrea used to be a refrigeration engineer. He did that job for 15 years and would probably have continued with it, as he enjoyed it. But then an opportunity came along. Andrea himself is still somewhat “green” – but he is radiant. He has ideas and a thirst for knowledge. He observes, makes sense of what he sees and doesn’t hesitate to simply try something out.
Like he is doing here with Natyra®, the new variety. And with the Guyot method, which is extensively used in viticulture.
As soon as the normal trees are tall enough, according to this method, the farmers don’t allow them to continue growing vertically. They align them horizontally. When the side branches form, they grow upwards on several axes and create a beautiful, flat wall of fruit.
The advantages of this multi-axis growing system are that all the apples receive more sun, they all grow to approximately the same size and the rows of trees can be planted closer together. When classic apple trees grow taller, the bottom sections quickly become shady. The apples there remain smaller and are more prone to fungal diseases.
Andrea has been testing the Guyot method since 2020. With success: the trees look very healthy, have nice leaves and abundant fruit. Andrea planted this tree, which bears Natyra® apples, only last year. Until the buds form at the top, he lets them sprout at the bottom as well, so they will also yield somewhat more fruit this year. In the course of the summer, the tree will be bent and fixed in place, and then pruned where there is too much. Natyra® has a reputation for being a somewhat complicated variety. Above all, it is very sensitive to being cut. It’s important to cover bare spots, as when it is cut too close, nothing more will grow there. Andrea learned this lesson in the first year he worked with Natyra®.
But Andrea learns from what he has experienced. And he meets regularly with other farmers. Two to three times a year, he and a group of kindred spirits exchange information and report about their experiences, successes and concerns. He also discusses things with his family. With his father and his older brother. Andrea’s brother is actually the farmer: he has farmed around 10 hectares with his father for years. Andrea always helped with thinning out the apples and harvesting, but he was very happy in his profession as refrigeration engineer. In 2017, they asked him again if he wanted to join them on the farm and he mulled it over.
“I’ll only do it if it’s organic.”
“I’ll only do it if it’s organic,” was clear to Andreas. A clear condition – and a conviction that was just as clear. And that’s how it worked out. They divided up the cultivable land, although their father decided to keep a piece for himself simply because he enjoyed farming. They share some machines and equipment, and help out when it’s needed. Andrea is the only organic farmer among them, but his brother is very interested and who knows, maybe Andrea will inspire him to take the plunge! He learned the details at Laimburg Technical School and established a good understanding of the material, from growth and pruning to the varieties and their yield.
Sweetly sour, highly aromatic, crunchy and juicy. “Natyra® has it’s own mind when it comes to cultivation, but the apple is extremely good,” said Andrea. “Everyone who eats it loves it, and even asks for it by name!” It needs good soil and he’s learned that it’s also important to keep the surface of the ground as free from grass as possible. In the case of young trees in particular, the grass competes with the tree for growth. It is also resistant to tree diseases like scab or mildew, but water core and sunburn are somewhat more dangerous. Particularly here, says Andreas, because the grove has an east-west alignment. Andrea has added shade netting for the hot days in July and August as a preventive measure. Another test, but he is certain that it will be successful.
In general, it was his attitude toward nature that made him exclude any form of agriculture other than organic. He had seen what a biologist was spraying as plant protection, and he liked how simple everything was. Almost humble and exclusively natural. And it’s perfect that way – particularly now, with the children. He can let them roam freely in the groves around the farm without having to worry about possible dangers. He lives with his girlfriend Magdalena and the two kids on the third floor of the farmhouse, with his parents below them. The farm doesn’t have a name. It never had one and they couldn’t agree on a name when he took it over, so they left it as it was.
What Andrea does now completely fulfils him. He doesn’t have much time left over for hobbies. He likes being in the mountains with his kids, tobogganing and sometimes skiing in the winter. Cultivating apples is actually his hobby, he says with a laugh. He likes to try out new things, tinker, observe, draw conclusions and perfect the results. Until it works, until he gets it right. He allows himself this freedom.
Sometimes people tease him for being “somewhat green”. But when they see how full his young trees are or how successful he is with headstrong varieties like Natyra®, they quickly forget about his green-ness.