If you’ve ever wanted to learn about fruit trees – what’s the best climate, best soil, what grows best here in Mississippi -- then Larry Stephenson of Southern Cultured Orchard in Carroll County is the guy you want to meet.
Some people may think caring for fruit trees is like tending to a vegetable garden, but having an orchard is more work and dedication, according to Stephenson.
Stephenson spoke to attendees during the Duck Hill Library’s National Library Week. He brought clippings of his fruit trees and told which ones fared better in the Mississippi climate, which ones were better for preserving and eating, and which ones were better for making mead wine, cider, cider vinegar, and perry.
Also, he showed which ones bring in a good profit. Stephenson said he takes what he grows and sells the fruit at fruit trade shows; he’s become known as the fruit guy from Mississippi.
He mainly spoke of apples, the many different kinds and varieties, the chill requirements (apples need cold temps to help with the blooming and producing of fruit) and which ones are in the most demand. Stephenson travels to many fruits shows where he sells the products that he grows in Carrollton.
If there’s something you wanted to try, like Pineapple Pears, the many types of Crabapples or Jujubes – no, not the candy but the actual fruit -- Stephenson can help you grow it.
“I like the weird stuff,” he said.
If he’s heard of something he’s not familiar with, like a Black Diamond Apple from Tibet, he probably knows someone who grows it or something similar.
“I’d never seen a Black Diamond Apple. I see that stuff on Facebook, and I say it’s not real. I told my wife it looked evil. Like the apple the Evil Queen gave to Snow White,” Stephenson said laughing.
There’s probably is not an apple he doesn’t know.
Stephenson taught those in attendance about how to graft a tree, start the process of growing a particular apple tree, which ones are good for preserving, eating or for cider, and some of the good and bad worms and insecticides.
He said he doesn’t spray much.
“I have a friend who has an orchard in Fulton, and you can tell the difference in my crop and his,” he said.
Stephenson also talked about deer and rabbits, which also loved the fruit he grew, but he doesn’t love them.
“Rabbits have cost me a few thousand,” he said.
He also talked about soil pH, what’s the best way to fertilize, which fruits are better to grow in Mississippi.