Northern pear cultivars and orchard management field day – August 11, Decorah

For Release: July 31, 2015

DECORAH, Iowa — When Perry-O and David Sliwa decided to focus a big part of their production orchard on growing pears, it was due to more than just a fondness for the fruit; it was a business opportunity. “There are a lot of people selling apples in our area, but very few people growing pears,” says David, who operates Sliwa Meadow Farm with his wife, Perry-O, near Decorah.

He says he’s not sure why more pears aren’t grown in the Upper Midwest. “The key to all tree fruits is getting the right combination of variety and rootstock. Apple rootstocks are available in any kind of size category someone could want, from extreme dwarfing to 110 percent of full-size. But pears don’t have quite that availability. So we experimented to find which varieties of pears would do well on our farm.”

Since planting their orchard in the mid-1990s, the Sliwas have trialed more than 100 pear varieties. They have also experimented with different pear rootstocks. In the process, they have developed a list of favorites that meet their production criteria – pear varieties that include both more recent cultivars, and heritage varieties that are more than 200 years old. David and Perry-O will share their insights at a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day they are hosting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The event – “Northern Pear Cultivars, Rootstocks and Orchard Floor Management” – is free to attend, and will feature a potluck meal after the program. A main dish will be provided. Guests are asked to bring a side dish or dessert to share, as their own table service.  RSVPs are requested for the meal. Please contact Lauren Zastrow, or (515) 232-5661, by Friday, Aug. 7. Sliwa Meadow Farm is located at 2682 Lannon Hill Rd., about 9.5 miles northeast of downtown Decorah. The field day is sponsored by Winneshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Guests will get to tour the Sliwas’ orchard, view the different pear cultivars and rootstocks, and discuss David and Perry-O’s management practices, which seek to mimic forest-edge ecology as a means of bolstering the health and productivity of their trees. As part of this management approach, the Sliwas emphasize soil biology, and practices that promote the soil foodweb and mycorrhyizal fungi. Heather Sage and Conor Murphy, who both have training and experience in mycology, will speak about these topics. David and Perry-O will also discuss their use of dynamic accumulators.

“In an orchard, we’re not dealing with trees that grow in a woodlot or forest environment; we’re dealing with a forest edge,” David says. “It has a unique ecology, with associated plants and soil. We attempt to incorporate plants within the orchard that interact best with fruit trees.

“That’s where dynamic accumulators come in – plants that have the ability to take up nutrients in the soil that may not be in a form the tree can readily access. Comfrey is a good example. It’s really good at picking up nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients. When we either cut it and put in our mulch, or it dies back, it’s in a form readily available for trees.”

Sliwa Meadow Farm is an off-the-grid homestead that has been powered by the wind and sun for 35 years. It features a passive solar home; 3 acres of orchard; and 2 acres of market gardens producing vegetables, small fruits and flowers. Perry-O and David also host Hannah Breckbill, a beginning farmer and PFI Savings Incentive Program participant who operates Humble Hands Harvest.

Directions: From the intersection of College Drive and Locust Road in Decorah, go north on Locust Road exactly 4 miles. Turn right (east) onto Canoe Ridge Road. After 3.5 miles, turn right (south) onto Lannon Hill Road. The farm driveway is on the left, second-to-the-last before the dead end.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2015 field day season features 40 field days around Iowa. All field days are open to the public, and most are free to attend. The guide is available online at, or contact the PFI office at (515) 232-5661 to request a printed copy.

Practical Farmers’ 2015 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Natural & Organic Meats; BlueStem Organic Feed Mill; Center for Rural Affairs; Featherman Equipment Company; Grain Millers, Inc.; Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa Farm Service Agency (USDA); Iowa Farmers Union in partnership with Town and Country Insurance and Hastings Mutual Insurance; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH); ISU Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Klinkenborg Aerial Spraying and Seeding, Inc.; La Crosse Seed; Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES); MOSA Organic Certification; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Organic Valley – Organic Prairie – CROPP Cooperative; The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Pro-Soil Ag Solutions; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed and Honey Company.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit


Perry-O and David Sliwa | Sliwa Meadow Farm | (563) 382-3922 |

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 |