Client Spotlight: Quince Essential / Rob Siegel

March 2022 Newsletter

This month, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Siegel, owner and founder of Quince Essential, LLC located in Philomath, OR. You can even find Quince Essential fruits and products at the local Corvallis Farmers Market! Read our interview below:

When did you start the farm?

Rob: Legally in December 2013. However, land prep began in October 2013 after experimenting with 3 trees over two years in our backyard to ensure they would grow and produce in the Willamette Valley.

Which kinds of crops/livestock do you have?

Rob: We have exclusively Quince trees. The originally planted trees (Feb., 2014) numbered 24 with four varieties.  We now have 47 trees and seven varieties in production and 3 more varieties expected to provide fruit in 2022. There are more than 40 varieties total – we chose 4 including the luther and burbank varieties, some known as pineapple quince. I chose these varieties when working with Joseph Postman at the USDA Germplasm Depository. They do quite notable work there, and are saving and researching many varieties of heirloom plants.

What are some interesting facts about the Quince fruit that we may not know?

Rob: There aren’t many varieties that are fragrant on the vine, most quince have to be cooked to be fragrant. They are astringent and sour before cooking.  The anthocyanins in quince are bound up in the tannins, and the pinkish to deep red colors are released with cooking. You can learn more about the health benefits of quince and see our recipes here on our website!

How do you manage your quince orchard? Any insider tips for us?

Trim and prune regularly, thinning out excessive branches is important! We keep the trees under 10-12 feet for easy trimming. This keeps it manageable. Otherwise, 1 tree could produce over 100 lbs of fruit each, and grow much bigger!

We have international and national readers who grow many different things, and may not be familiar with your area. What is the soil like in your orchard? What thrives?

Rob: As with much of the Kings Valley area near Marys River, the soil is highly acidic and clay-like. The acidity is great for the quince trees but the clay-like consistency needed to be amended to provide more organic matter. While this occurred over three years, keeping the soil from drying out (and turning to hard concrete-like clay), we ensured a drip water system during the dry months of July – October.

What was the transition from conventional practices to biologicals like for you?

Rob: We have always been organic gardeners from the beginning, but we were very unaware of the science of “soil biology” until contact with Earthfort. We don’t use weed killers here at Quince Essential, we do use Earthfort Products though! Quince does not have the same types of pests as apples and pears, so  here in Philomath… pests are not an issue for our Quince orchard. We are able to wipe our fruit clean, store them in a commercial grade fridge, and wrap the individual fruits with loving care.

Do you have any advice you’d share with someone who was just beginning their biological journey away from conventional practices/expensive fertilizers/herbicide products?

Rob: Do the research. There is a ton of reading material available from reliable sources (such as universities and US Dept of Agriculture), not to mention centers such as the USDA Germplasm Depository here in Corvallis.

What would you say is your biggest success on the farm?

Rob: The beauty of our fruit. Most people are amazed when they see them. Some have even thought they were wax! One person commented at the Farmers’ Market “These are not high quality, they are ‘museum quality’”! We introduced Mason bees last year and were astounded with the results of the pollination efficiency!

What are you most proud of?

Rob: That we are 100% certified organic, both our fruit and fruit spreads. Bringing an organic quality quince fruit to the USA is a rare accomplishment, only found in .001% of the quince orchards in the country!

What have been some of your challenges along the way?

Rob: Because we are a small artisan family farm, our fixed costs are high compared to the quantity of fruit harvested. The fees associated with organic certification have been very high but ameliorated lately with compensation from the USDA for a percentage of the fees.

How has Earthfort helped your farm? Do you use any Earthfort products?

Rob: O my gosh! Are you kidding? We have learned so much about soil biology after attending their seminars and talking with their Manager, Matt Slaughter. We visited other clients of theirs and all have the same praise and success. Other than an organically-approved dormant spray in the winter months, we only use a combination of Soil ProVide containing microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi with a water-soluble food source Soil ReVive. Both products work together to add diverse biology and feed it at the same time. This is applied four times during the year.

Are there any practices you’ve changed (because of Earthfort or otherwise) in the last 10-15 years that made a large impact on your success?

Rob: Keeping our orchard small to ensure manageability (only my wife and myself work in the business) and ensure that quality presides over quantity.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rob: We learned about the quince fruit in Chile where we lived for 25 years. We always had Quince Spread (or quince paste) in our refrigerator for eating with toast and farmers’ cheese. When we came to the USA in 1997 we were shocked that nobody had ever heard of a quince fruit, not even the upscale grocery stores. We feel great about introducing the quince fruit not only to Oregon but also to the entire USA. While we love talking about quince at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market, much of our clientele purchase the organic quince fruit from us online, and we ship all over the USA!

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