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Archive for Saturday, September 14, 1991

S THE APPLE OF HIS EYE

September 14, 1991

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As the apple-picking season winds down at the Davenport Orchard, it seemed fitting that Gregory Shipe was hauling a group of excited first-graders on a flat-bed trailer as he drove a tractor into his orchard.

That's because Shipe began his love of the 80-acre orchard, located four miles east of Lawrence, as a child during visits to his grandparents' house.

"This is what he's wanted to do ever since he used to come up here and visit with us and come out to the orchard with grandpa," said Mary Davenport, his grandmother.

She's glad that the orchard remained in the family after her husband died 19 years ago.

"My husband would have wanted it," Mrs. Davenport said.

So, too, did Shipe, who took over running the orchard in 1970 after getting out of the military.

"IT'S JUST A goal that I've had for years," he said. "Grandpa started it, and I just carried on. We haven't made anything yet, but we're trying."

And he's retained his youthful exuberance in the process. As far as the apples go, Shipe said, "They taste good, and I like to eat apples this way."

The nine rows of grapes he planted two years ago are a hobby.

``If it works out, maybe we'll even plant more. This part of the state is good for grapes," Shipe said.

In the hot days of summer, Shipe empathizes with the customers who come to his "pick-your-own" operation.

"Most people come out right at 8 o'clock, when it's cool. At 10 o'clock, it's miserable," he said. "It really should be cold when you pick apples. In the morning, you should be wearing a coat, seeing your breath. That's when it's fun."

SHIPE ALSO is tinkering with developing apple cider as a product from his orchard, but he does not consider it as a business at this time.

"I'm just playing with it right now," he said.

Shipe's orchard has taken on a different look from the one planted by his grandfather 30 years ago. In the beginning, his grandfather planted "99.9 percent" peaches, along with about 100 apple trees. The peach trees fell victim to the extremes of Kansas' climate and are almost all gone.

Apple trees now dominate the landscape east of Douglas County Road 1057, just north of Kansas Highway 10. Shipe has approximately 1,500 apple trees featuring 19 varieties. More than 1,000 of the semi-dwarf trees were planted in the last six years, including 600 planted in spring of 1990.

But the orchard's 40 pear trees seem to have created problems for his apple trees.

"I'M NOT TOO happy with the pears, so I don't think I'll do any more," he said. "I think they need to be separated from the apples. They have diseases that get transferred to the Jonathan apples. If you eliminate the pear, that's eliminating a big problem."

Shipe favors the semi-dwarf apple trees because they bear fruit in five years and can withstand Kansas winters. The lifespan of the trees is about 25 years, although about 40 trees from his grandfather's original planting remain.

Thanks to irrigation, the recent plantings are doing "fantastic," he said. Shipe said his watering system can cover 10 acres a night.

"I could have watered more, but it's very expensive," he said.

But for now, there's not much left to pick in the orchard. Shipe said the trees bloomed early, leading to a harvest a couple of weeks sooner than usual. A lot of apples also dropped off the trees because of the hot weather.

"THE TREES were wanting to get rid of the fruit to save themselves," he said.

The orchard is a few years away from being a money-maker, said Shipe, who also grows wheat and beans, along with maintaining some rental houses. Shipe's wife also works full time.

Even if the orchard isn't yet bearing a profit, he keeps on planting, irrigating and working with the countenance of a happy man, one who has reconciled himself to the difficulties of raising fruit in northeast Kansas.

"Everything that tastes good,'' he said, ``is hard to raise."

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