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Mum's the word at Trevon and Beth Unruh's farmstead near Grafton

Trevon and Beth Unruh own Oxbow Orchards near Grafton, where they raise more than 7,000 chrysanthemums.

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Kyndra, left, and Landon Unruh place nets over the family's mum plants at Oxbow Orchards and Mums west of Grafton, N.D., Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAFTON – Even during the dog days of late August, when the mercury is flirting with 100 degrees, fall is in the air at Trevon Unruh’s farm near Grafton.

Rows upon rows of chrysanthemums ready to burst into blooms fill a plot near his home. Thousands more are scattered in pots on landscape fabric-covered ground on Unruh’s farmstead. In all, Unruh and his wife, Beth, have 7,500 chrysanthemums in shades of red, yellow, orange, purple and pink. They sell the flowers wholesale to grocery stores in the region, to local farmers markets and by direct retail on his farm to customers who stop in.

Some of the chrysanthemum pots feature purple fountain grass, an annual. Unruh also has several individual pots of purple fountain grass for sale, and next year, he plans to increase the number to 1,000.

Besides their chrysanthemum sales, the Unruhs also operate Oxbow Orchards, which sells 20 varieties of apples, including Honey Crisp, Zestar and Chestnut, grown on 220 trees on their farm. The husband and wife also sell the apples at grocery stores, farmers markets and from his farm.

The wide variety of apples resonates with customers, who choose them depending on whether they plan to eat them fresh, make cider or cook up a batch of applesauce.

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For example, the Purple Passion variety makes a rich burgundy colored apple cider. Adding the apple to light-colored apple sauce turns it pink.

Unruh produces trees by grafting and takes pride in explaining the process to guests.

“It’s fun when you know you actually started that thing from a little bud, at the kitchen table,” Unruh said as he showed recent visitors a tree he had grafted.

Unruh planted the first apple trees in Oxbow Orchards, so called because it is in a sheltered oxbow of the Park River on the Unruh farm, in 2009. In 2018 he began raising chrysanthemums after he visited a family member in La Crosse, Wis., who grew them commercially.

''It fits so well with the apples,” Unruh said.

Unruh spends long hours during the summer – dawn until dusk – tending to the flowers and trees.

''It’s hard to shut her down when there’s work to do,” he said. ''This summer has been so hot, early in the morning and late in the evening was the best time to work.”

This year, besides watering the flowers three times a day, Unruh and his six children plucked thousands of wisps of cottonwood fuzz and seeds from the mum pots.

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The horticulture business Unruh has nurtured is profitable, but requires a lot of hands-on labor and a time commitment.

''You’ve got to be willing to work,” Unruh said. But for him, raising flowers and apple trees has rewards that aren’t just monetary.

''I love being out here in the sunshine and hearing the birds sing,” he said. ''I just love it.”

Raising flowers and trees is a good way for people who like agriculture and don’t mind getting their hands dirty to make a living, especially for someone who isn't in a position to inherit a farm.

''If you’re going to get into farming, this is the way to do it,” Unruh said. ''I think people have got to think outside of the box. It doesn’t have to be grown in an 80-acre field.”

Like many farmers, Unruh enjoys the fall harvest.

''It’s miles of smiles. Flowers are just fun,” he said ''If we have a beautiful fall, I think we’ll sell everything.”

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