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Inaugural Apple Country Cider Jam Brings Hundreds Downtown

The inaugural Apple Country Cider Jam kicked off in downtown Hendersonville Saturday afternoon, drawing large crowds eager to sample the offerings from local cideries that use Henderson County apples.

A long line of people was already waiting at the gates before the event got started, and by midafternoon Main Street was thick with visitors enjoying different ciders, food and music.

Eight area cideries were represented: Bold Rock Hard Cider, Noble Cider, Flat Rock Ciderworks, Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders, Bull City Ciderworks, Red Clay Ciderworks, GoodRoad CiderWorks and 1898 Hard Cider.

Read more here.

Take Soil Samples to Know Plants' Spring Fertilization Need

RALEIGH -- Spring is the best time to fertilize your shrubs as it promotes optimal growth with healthy foliage and abundant flowers. Well-fertilized shrubs not only improve the aesthetics of the landscape and provide wildlife habitat, but also enhance value and appearance of the property.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Agronomic Services Division encourages home gardeners, community gardeners and landscapers to submit soil samples to optimize growing conditions. From April through mid-November, soil testing is free, and samples are typically turned around within two weeks.

“Fertilizers provide nutrients to help plants grow, but it is important to apply the correct amount and type of fertilizer to promote optimal plant growth,” said Jagathi Kamalakanthan, an NCDA&CS soil testing agronomist. “If the soil pH does not match the plant needs, then fertilizing alone may not be helpful.”

It is also important to follow the lime recommendation on the soil test report, Kamalakanthan said. For most shrubs, a pH of 6.0 is optimal; however, acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, rhododendron and mountain laurel prefer a pH of 5.0.

While a lack of proper soil nutrients can lead to poor growth, other environmental factors may be an underlying contributor. Those include inadequate sunlight, soil compaction, poor drainage, insects or diseases.

Before deciding fertilizer is the answer, determine why plants are growing poorly, then correct the factors contributing to poor growth, Kamalakanthan said. Fertilization may help, but only after other problems are corrected.

“Whether you are working with new or established plants, fertilization should be based on soil test results,” Kamalakanthan said. “Applying too much lime and fertilizer, or routinely applying unneeded fertilizer, can be a wasteful investment and pollute the environment.” Also, it can hinder the plant’s ability to take up nutrients or create toxicity, depending on the nutrient.

Many urban soils are low in phosphorus, which can present challenges with new plantings. Phosphorus helps promote growth and the establishment of plants. “Having the soil tested before putting in new plantings can help ensure a better start, if phosphorous and other nutrients are needed,” Kamalakanthan said. Phosphorous also works best if mixed or incorporated into the soil rooting zone.

For new plantings, wait until spring to fertilize fall-planted trees and shrubs. Wait six to eight weeks to fertilize plants installed in the spring. Fertilize established trees and shrubs in the spring as new growth begins. From an environmental perspective, spring is the best time to fertilize since plants are actively growing and taking up nutrients; fall and winter fertilization, especially nitrogen is subject to loss with water through the soil when plants are not as active.

Some general fertilization tips to consider:

Avoid fertilization in late summer (around mid-August) since it may stimulate late-season growth that fails to harden off before frost;Do not use slow-release fertilizers after July 15;Apply fertilizer evenly around the plant root zone, keeping it away from the bark and foliage;Plan to do a soil test every two to three years;Plants typically need fertilization every year but not lime. Follow the lime recommendation on the soil test report and apply lime only as recommended by soil testing.

A detailed pictorial guide to collecting and sampling for home gardens is available at More information on fertilizing trees and shrubs can be found at

Contact the Agronomic Services Division office at 919-733-2655 for questions regarding soil testing.

Cider Jam Preview Event and Pint Night at Mountain River Tap and Growler

Join us for a Cider Jam preview event!

The event takes place on Thursday, April 6 at the Airport location of Mountain River Tap and Growler from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. This event will feature some selections from the local Cideries that will be featured at the Apple Cider Jam.

Mountain River Tap and Growler commits to having at least one offering from Saint Paul’s, Flat Rock Cider Works and Bold Rock on tap.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets to the Cider Jam, which takes place on April 22 12-6 p.m.

Apple-saluting cider jam also features bigtime bluegrass band

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By Bill Moss, Published: November 17, 2016

Hendersonville is getting a second apple celebration — a one-day event in the spring to promote the growing hard cider business.

Agribusiness Henderson County is sponsoring the Apple Country Cider Jam, Henderson County’s first hard cider festival, on Saturday, April 22, on Main Street.

The festival, from 1 to 6 p.m., will be a ticketed event with hard cider tasting, a nationally known bluegrass band and food trucks, said Mark Williams, executive director of AgHC, the nonprofit that promotes farming in Henderson County. The jam will close the same two blocks that are used for Rhythm & Brews, in front of the Visitors Center and Wells Fargo bank.

“The first couple of hours there will be a tasting that’s included in the ticket price,” Williams said. “Then after that people would have opportunity to purchase it by the pint. The main band will be one that people will recognize the name of.”

Williams hopes the Cider Jam gives the industry more exposure and more visitors over time.

“We’re going to try to promote this event in a manner that’s not just about the Main Street event,” he said. “We want to push people out to these operations (the cideries) so they can have their own individual events and give the exposure to their own event. ... We want people to make a weekend out of it.”

The 16 local and regional cider producers in North Carolina all will be invited to set up tastings

booths at the event. “We anticipate that most will” accept, Williams said.

Henderson County has three hard cider makers — Bold Rock, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards and Naked Apple, which operates Flat Rock Ciderworks on Main Street. Organizers may add apple wine, which Burntshirt makes, but there are no plans for beer.

“We’ve got a reason that we broadened it to include other hard cider makers, because 95 percent of them are getting their apples from Henderson County,” he said.

AgHC worked with the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, the city of Hendersonville and the North Carolina Apple Festival in planning the festival. Food trucks will be limited and because the festival ends at 6 p.m. organizers expect many visitors to stay and dine downtown.

“We hope this will be an event that will help tourism and put heads in beds,” Williams said. “It’s been a good collaborative effort.”

The Cider Jam also plans to promote a tie-in to apple blossom time. The April 22 date should coincide with the explosion of snowy white blooms in orchards throughout the apple country.

Tickets are $25 and will be on sale after Thanksgiving.

Saint Paul Vineyards Wins 9 Medals

Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, located southeast of Hendersonville off of Highway 64, recently won nine medals, including six gold medals, at the annual North Carolina State Fair Wine Competition. Almost 400 wines and ciders from across the state were submitted for judging.

The vineyard’s gold medal winners included Vidal Blanc, Chestnut East Reserve, Chestnut Gap and Vin Chocolate Du Barista wines well as two hard ciders, Wallace Original # 1 and Wallace Sweet #3. Other medal winners were Betty Jean Chardonnay and Saint Paul Chardonnay wines and Wallace Dry #3 cider.

Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards was the first commercial vineyard in Henderson County. It is located at 588 Chestnut Gap Road on acreage that has been in the family and farmed for more than nine generations. The tasting room includes both indoor and outdoor seating with spectacular views of the vineyards and the surrounding mountains. Saint Paul wines are made from 14 varieties of grapes grown in Henderson County at elevations of 2,300 and 3,000 feet, some of the highest in the state.

The tasting room offers wine tastings daily and is open year round.

“We look forward to your visiting us, tasting our award-winning wines and allowing us to share our passion with you. We are proud and enthusiastic about viticulture, pomology and agro-tourism in our state and region,” Alan Ward, owner of Saint Paul Vineyards, said. “Our goals are to continue to improve and bring new and interesting experiences to our community, state and surrounding area. We are producing an apple brandy and cream sherry that was aged three years in French oak barrels. We are continuing to expand our orchard and hope to complete the selection of European cider varieties this spring by having current plantings from North America along with 11 new varieties that are staples in Normandy France at the DuPont and Pierre Huet orchards. Lastly and most importantly we want the world to know how unique our growing region is; more geological diversity than any place in the world, the second oldest mountain range in the world, and more plant diversity than anywhere in the world. We want our guests to learn about the wines we produce and enjoy the total experience.”

North Carolina has more than 180 wineries and 525 commercial growers, according to Whit Winslow, executive director of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council. A recently released economic survey shows a $1.7 billion contribution to the state’s economy.  North Carolina is ranked 10th nationally in wine and grape production.

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Johnson Family Farm Stand "The Next Generation" Opens Today!

A freshly painted sign along Kanuga Road tells the story of three sisters who went their separate ways after high school, but have reunited to preserve a family legacy that dates back to the late 1700s.

“Johnson Family Farm, the Next Generation,” reads the green and yellow sign in front of a soon-to-open produce stand and u-pick farm at Kanuga Road and Erkwood Drive, a stone's throw from the Hendersonville city line.

The new venture brings a huge smile – and a sense of relief – to Kirby Johnson, father of the three sisters and descendant of Irishman James Johnson, who settled into a life of farming seven generations ago when he and his family built a home in the Shaw's Creek area of what was then part of Buncombe County.

“My father, my grandfather and everybody before him was a farmer,” Johnson said as his daughters — Letha Ducker, Heather Price and Kelli Campbell — prepared to open for business on July 12. “That's where I started, and that's where I want to end up. I'm going to be on a farm until I die.”

Ducker, oldest of the three siblings, says she agrees with her father that too many sons and daughters of farming families in Western North Carolina are leaving home to pursue other professions.

“I think it's true and I hate it,” said Ducker, a hair stylist and makeup artist who remembers selling vegetables at her family's produce stands at age 12. “I think we're going to lose all of our traditions unless we do something about it.”

Campbell, a Clemson University graduate and former elementary school teacher in South Carolina, says she will miss teaching but welcomes the chance to continue the family legacy. She also said the timing is perfect, since she'll be able to spend more time with her children, one of whom has been facing serious health issues.

Though she is the youngest of the three sisters, Campbell will manage the produce stand and 4-acre pick-it-yourself vegetable farm, which will feature corn, greasy-back beans, tomatoes and green peppers grown from heirloom seeds that go back several generations.

“We want our children to see how it was done throughout our family (history),” Campbell said. “It's going to help all of our kids learn how to interact with the elders and how to respect others and learn the value of a dollar.”

Price couldn't agree more. “We can teach them life lessons, and they'll pass them on to their kids and keep the legacy alive,” she said.

“But you know,” Price added, smiling as she watched her father walk by. “None of this could have happened without our father. He instilled the need for the next generation to carry out the legacy.”

And the rest, everyone agrees, will become history.

Flat Rock Ciderworks Tasting Room Opens

By Bill Moss, Published: April 22, 2016

Jim Sparks, a native of Hendersonville, prides himself on local everything when it comes to Naked Apple Hard Cider and its new tasting room downtown, Flat Rock CiderWorks.

“We grow our own apples and what we don’t grow we buy here in the county,” he says. “It’s all local. With us being an artisan cider we don’t use concentrate and fructose syrup and sugars. It’s all natural.”

His three-year-old cidery won two double blue ribbons at a North Carolina competition, for Wicked Peel and Blackberry Gold, and it’s now at 250 distribution points in the Carolinas. A retail shop in his hometown was the next logical step.

“We looked for the right spot on Main Street,” Sparks said on Friday, the day before he and his partner, apple grower Jim Reavis, threw a grand opening party. “We knew we wanted to do a tasting room and we found the right spot last year during the Apple Festival. We’ve got honey, we’ve got jams, jellies. What we’re trying to do is promote the local agriculture economy. As things come on line we’ll have blackberries that you can purchase. We’ll have apples in here.”

Aside from selling directly to customers downtown, Sparks figures an added advantage is test-marketing new products.

“We’re going to bring out some other flavors and let the public see what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “We’ll track that and then determine what flavors are the best sellers and we’ll put those out in the market in bottles and cans.”

Sparks plans a variety of community oriented and family friendly events.

“We’re going to do some fun things in here,” he said of the spacious digs at 305 N. Main St. “We’re going to do some fundraisers. We’ll do a fundraiser for Mom and Rick’s scholarship (in honor of his mother, Connie Sparks, and Rick Sparks). We had about 30 Realtors yesterday from Beverly Hanks. We had food from Hannah’s. We’ve got a 16-foot indoor shuffle board, we got cornhole. It’s not a bar. We like to say it’s a tasting room.”

It’s appointed with creative wood signs, decorations and cabinetry made from recycled wooden pallets. They turned apple bins on their side and installed shelves. A 50-year-old apple ladder is suspended above the bar. They took their own cider bottles, heated them up, stuck them in ice and busted the bottom out to make light fixtures. The woodwork was done by Tommy Tolles, the professional golfer who lives in Laurel Park.

“He’s an incredible talent in woodworking and we appreciate him being part of it,” Sparks said. “Everything that we’ve done is just using things that you’d find on the farm.”

Aside from the large selection of Naked Apple Hard Cider, the bar has four craft beer taps and also serves wine. Sparks plans to rotate the taps to feature local breweries. A flight of four hard cider or beer samples is $6. Five bucks will fetch a pint.

Customers can order food from Hannah Flanagan’s and pay at the CiderWorks waiters pick it up from across the street and serve it.

“We’re not in the food business,” Sparks said. “All my neighbors with restaurants have good food so why reinvent the wheel. So we work with them and it’s a win-win. They sell food. We sell cider and beer and wine.”

Mark Williams, executive director of AgHC, the county’s farm-promoting agency, said he was glad to see the tasting room open.

“We’re very excited with the opening of the local taproom,” he said. “They’re growing a significant portion of the product and they work with some of the other growers. Everything they put in their product is coming out of Henderson County. One thing that’s really unique about Naked Apple is that they’re totally vertically integrated. They’re growing, pressing, bottling and marketing the product. It is a true artisan cider. It’s not like a lot of the ciders you see out there that is mostly concentrate.”

“They’re the first on Main Street, which I think is real exciting,” he added. “I see the cider industry as continuing to take off. I don’t think it’s going to be a flash in the pan. I think it’s going to be a trend.”

Flat Rock CiderWorks is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For information visit

Congressman Meadows Visits Southern Mountain Fresh

Bold Rock Hard Cidery in Mills River has joined Southern Mountain Fresh. Congressman Mark Meadows recently visited the taproom.  He is seen here with Brian Shanks (founding partner and cider maker) and Mark Williams (Henderson County Agribusiness Executive Director).

Dr. Rich Linton, Dean of NC State's College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Visits

Dr. Rich Linton, Dean of NC State's College of Agriculture & Life Sciences visited recently.

The first photo is at Tri-Hishtil, where Bert Lemkes, General Mgr. is showing him the new grafted plant operation. Watermelon plants fill the greenhouse and are already being shipped to farmers in Florida, Texas and California.

The second shot is at Bold Rock Hard Cider where the a tour is given of their new Mills River facility, including the large production area and tasting bar. Included in the photo are L-R: Mark Williams, AgHC Exec. Director; Brian Shanks, Bold Rock co-owner and cidermaker; Dr. Rich Linton, Dean NCSU-CALS; Noland Ramsey, AgHC Board Member and Past Chairman. None of the group had done any sampling, but everyone is happy because Bold Rock is using Henderson County apples to make their cider!