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It’s all in the family

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By Ron Benningfield

James E. Bennett Orchard, located about four miles from Buffalo on Bennett Road, has been in the same family through four generations.

“John Bennett started the family in the apple business,” said Lula Bennett, James Bennett’s widow. “John had two sons, Minor and Ernest, who each had orchards as did their sons, James and Tommy.”

James’ son Mike, his wife Glenda and Lula now operate the business that sells several varieties of apples and peaches as well as honey, preserves, sorghum, jellies, and jams.

From June until December, customers can choose from among several apple varieties they find at Bennett’s.

“People come from all the surrounding area, even Indiana,” said Glenda. “A woman who lives in Missouri comes every year and one couple who lives in Florida always drops in as they have a summer home in Kentucky.”

Lula said Golden Delicious is the most popular variety of apple, but the orchard grows several other popular varieties to sell as they ripen—Lodi, Redfree, Paula Red in June and July; McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Galas, Prima in August; Jonathan, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonagold in September; and Fuji, Mutsu, Winesap, Granny Smith, and Arkansas Black in October.

Customers’ choices depend upon what they want to do with the apples, Lula noted, with most of them seeking an all-purpose apple that is good fresh, fried, baked, or in pies and other delicacies.

Once the selling season ends, the focus turns to pruning 1,300 apple and peach trees and replacing some that don’t make it through harsh winters and damage to fruit-laden branches.

“Our replacement plants are about three to four feet tall, and it will take about six years before they’ll produce a heavy yield,” Mike remarked.

Weather plays a critical role in whether next year’s fruit crop will be bumper or bust, especially with peaches.

“It used to be we might get two or three good crops of peaches every 10 years, but the last 10 years the weather has been warmer and our peaches have done better,” Mike observed. “Last year, though, the temperature hit minus 10 degrees, so we didn’t have a peach crop this season.”

Apples, he noted, are hardier than peaches, with their most susceptible time being after they’ve bloomed in early spring, when a cold snap can cause severe damage.

“We’re usually safe as far as apples go after May 10,” said Mike.

The orchard is located at 501 Bennett Road and is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information about Bennett’s Orchard call 270-325-3234.