Scott Chausee (left) and Richard Borrie (right) of  OrangePippin.com and OrangePippintrees.com.

Scott Chausee (left) and Richard Borrie (right) of OrangePippin.com and OrangePippintrees.com are two apple tree growing hobbyists who have turned their passion into two information rich websites – and a fruit tree sales business.

Passionate fruit tree growers know that the secret to growing a successful organic orchard is choosing the right fruit trees. There are thousands of varieties of apple, pear, plum, apricot, cherry or quince trees available if you know where to find them. These varieties, like Macoun or Tydeman’s Early apples, have unique flavours and textures that you will never find in your local grocery store.

These trees may have other benefits as well. Some are disease resistant. Others are hardy and can survive in very cold climates. But with such a huge selection, how to you know which trees to plant? If you take a chance and plant a tree that is not appropriate (or with poor tasting fruit), you’re stuck with it for many years to come.

The ideal solution would be to have a friend who lives nearby who grows all these wonderful varieties. You could wander around their orchard, taste the fruit and see which varieties are thriving. Those healthy looking trees might also do well in your garden. The problem is that most of us aren’t lucky enough to have neighbours like that. So how do you make your decision?

Sharing information about apples in an online community

Back in 2005, UK-based fruit tree growing hobbyist and web developer, Richard Borrie, inadvertently came up with a solution. In his spare time, he created a website that listed different types of apple trees where he and others could post comments about those trees and the taste of the fruit. It was called OrangePippin.com, named after an heirloom apple popular in the UK.

The site took off. Friends and other hobbyists were hungry for more information and more tree listings. Site visitors came from across the English-speaking world including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and even India. They were eager to share their experiences about their trees and to learn from others.

Over the years Borrie added more and more features to the site. It now has information on 600 apple varieties, a fantastic pollination-checking tool, orchard listings from around the world, a fruit tree register, a calendar of orchard events and a discussion forum. And the site has an astounding 50,000 visitors a day during the peak season in the autumn.

In fact, a few years ago the site’s Internet hosting service gave Borrie notice because orangepippin.com had too much traffic! Borrie had to pay for an upgrade to a private hosting service in order to keep his hugely popular site online.

From building community to selling fruit trees

Hobbies can be expensive but over the years OrangePippin.com started to cost Borrie a lot of time and money. In addition to hosting fees, he spent hours programming the site, improving it, adding features and updating it. He understood the site was helping to educate hobby growers. But it also left them hanging. Again and again visitors asked if they could buy these trees from Orange Pippin. In order to close the loop, Borrie knew that somehow he would have to move into fruit tree sales.

In 2011, Borrie partnered with Scott Chausee, an apple enthusiast from Michigan, USA who was the co-creator (with orchard owner Topper Sponsel) of the US site All About Apples. That site was also popular, and had great information about apples and US orchard listings. After months of emails back and forth, the two became partners (even though they had never met in person) and created a new website called OrangePippinTrees.com. Designed for the US, it features profiles of trees that will thrive in the US and also offered US tree sales. It’s been a success and four years later, the venture is generating enough profit to fund both websites – though neither partner has yet be able to give up their day job.

So what is the future for OrangePippin.com and OrangePippinTrees.com? For now, it will continue to be a sideline that helps fund the main Orange Pippin website and associated projects but in the longer term Borrie hopes for growth.

“Our long-term aim, commercially, is to become one of the top five fruit tree retailers in the USA, as well as a primary resource for orchard listings and online services for orchard owners.  This won’t happen in a hurry, but just like planting an orchard, these are long-term projects that will take time to come to fruition,” he says.

Susan Poizner is the Author of Growing Urban Orchards: The Ups, Downs and How-Tos of Fruit Tree Care in the City. She is also the creator of the online fruit tree care education portal www.orchardpeople.com.