Brendan Smith already has a day job, but he just can't help growing apples.
His Pendleton orchard is one of the smaller commercial operations in Niagara County, with 20 acres of trees. The full-time welding inspector works with his family to care for about 1,500 trees, yielding about 75 tons of apples last year, from varieties including Macintosh, Ida Red, Cortland, Rome and more.
He grew up working on the same orchard after his father, an engineer, bought the place. Now it's a family business again. Working with his wife, Susan, who also works full-time as a director of nursing, son Brendan, 16, and daughter Meaghan, 13, the Smiths sell apples and press cider until they run out.
(Smith's Orchard cider, $3.50 a gallon, and apples are available weekends at the farm, 4960 Mapleton Road, and at other sites, including George's Produce, Main Street, Williamsville, and the Pendleton Farmers Market.)
"It's tough work," said Smith. "It's not easy, and there's not much money in it."
Then why do you do it?
"Well, we decided we were going to live on the orchard. There's no way I'm not going to maintain it and make it work. We like it. We enjoy doing it."
What makes your cider different?
"First of all, I use high-quality apples. I don't use any windfalls, because I can't tell if they fell in August, or they fell in September. I make sure the apples have a good sugar content prior to pressing. That's why I'm letting them sit on the trees a little more, sweeten up."
You said you get flavor from the variety mix, and sweetness from ripening, but how do you know when you've got the mix right?
"I base all that on what my customers like. 'How is it? Good or bad?,' I ask them. Tell me the truth, or I can't make it better. I've been doing that, asking those questions, for 15 or 16 years, and it's worked out good. Because I'm zoning in on what my customers want, not what satisfies me."
How important is cold storage?
"Apples that have been sitting out will overmature and get mealy. So you want to put them in cold storage as soon as you pick them."
You stash them in the fridge?
"Yep. It's a refrigerator. I hold my apples at about 38 degrees. I pay a big electrical bill, but it's worth it. Once I start getting into the colder months, then the bills aren't that bad, but the initial hit is a big hit."
Are apples in your blood?
"You're living in a house and cutting the grass. You're not making any money cutting that grass, but you're doing it. This is just my lawn. But it's a heck of a lawn."