Now that the summer days of watermelon juice dripping down your chin are behind us, it’s time to hear the snap of biting into a Minnesota-grown apple and let the sweet-tart juice of a Honeycrisp or Haralson drip onto your flannel shirt.
Like most crops battered by the cool, wet spring weather and late season hail, apple crops in some areas of west central Minnesota are a little smaller this year than in the past — and a little bruised.
But they are still tasty and ready for eating — or for making pie, crisp and apple sauce.
Although there are fewer local orchards open for business than in the past, good locally-grown apples can be found.
6051 75th St. NW
After following Randy Huisinga down a gravel road and through a secret opening between two very tall corn fields last week, an old-fashioned scene emerged of people picking apples from neat rows of apple trees.
Some of the pickers were perched on sturdy ladders and filled cloth apple bags draped over their shoulders while others packed the red fruit into crates.
Sunnyside Orchard is a 10-acre apple orchard with a 35-year history.
Planted by his father, Ted Huisinga, as a hobby and managed by “Apple Bill” for many years, Randy Huisenga said this is the fourth year he’s operated the orchard.
Honeycrisp is his favorite.
“But I just finished eating a Honeygold, and it was wonderful,” he said.
Huisinga estimates there are 700 trees in the orchard, including about 200 new Honeycrisp trees that were planted last year that won’t produce for another couple years.
He’s currently harvesting Haralson, Honeycrisp, Honeygold, Prairie Spy and Regent.
This hasn’t been the best year at the orchard.
“This year, the crop is really down,” he said.
Some of the trees didn’t produce very many apples and the size of the apples is smaller than they usually are, he said. A hail storm that swept across northern Kandiyohi County in September was the final insult.
While he will have apples picked, washed, sorted and ready for purchase, Huisinga said there will be no regular hours this year at the apple house, located near the orchard, about eight miles northwest of Willmar.
More than a few crates of the Sunnyside apples are sold to Sandy Saulsbury of Spicer, who makes and sells apple crisps under the name “Sandy’s Apply Crisp.”
While it’s disappointing to not have a bumper crop of apples this year, Huisinga’s enthusiasm and love for growing apples is not diminished. “There’s always next year,” he said.
Hidden Cove Orchard
27587 Hidden Co. Rd.
A day-long Fall Apple Thyme Festival takes place this weekend at Hidden Cove Orchard, located between Cold Spring and Avon in Stearns County. Activities are scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for today and Sunday.
The Gary Menke and Dave Spoden have owned and operated the well-groomed five-acre orchard and gift shop since 2003.
They currently have 250 trees and 11 varieties of apples that are harvested, bagged and sold at their retail shop — which also includes apple pies, dumplings, cookies and seasonal home decor and antiques.
The store is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday from the end of August to the Sunday before Christmas.
During this weekend’s Apple Thyme Festival there will be live music, vendors, food stands, wagon rides and entertainment for children.
“It draws quite a few people,” said Menke in a telephone interview. “We keep trying to improve our festival each year.”
Even though the store is open for just four months, Menke said running an orchard is a “non-stop business” that includes months of pruning and caring for trees that begins in late winter.
“We take pride in our apples,” he said. Their orchard only has apples grown or developed by the University of Minnesota.
Honeycrisp apples are their best sellers, followed by Zestar. Other popular varieties are Sweet 16, Haralson and Keepsake but he said all the varieties they grow sell well.
Because of the cool weather in August, Menke said harvest has been running about two weeks later than normal.
Like most orchards, customers are not allowed to pick their own apples at Hidden Cove Orchard.
A Christmas open house will be held at the orchard in early November.
Call 320-685-3186 for more details.
Jimmy Appleseed/Glacial Ridge Winery
15455 Old Mill Road
Jimmy Appleseed Orchard, which is part of the Glacial Ridge Winery located midway between New London and Spicer on state Highway 23, does not have apples for sale this year, according to owner Ron Wothe, who cited poor growing conditions and the September hail.
“Orchards all over the state have been hurt. It’s not just here,”” he said. “ It’s just one of those things.”
Despite the lack of salable apples in the orchard, which he said has about 175 apple trees, the fourth annual 3k Harvest Hike through the orchard will be held 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. The event includes wine tasting, caramel apple sampling and hard apple cider. Admission is $10, with proceeds going to the American Breast Cancer Foundation.
Ron and Kim Wothe purchased the orchard in 2004 and started the winery in 2007. Although the businesses are currently for sale, fall events are still scheduled at the winery, including the soup and music night Oct. 11.
Prairie Horizons Farm
31008 State Highway 29
When Joraan Forbord was a teen, he wanted to start a fruit orchard on his parents' Prairie Horizons farm, located between Benson and Starbuck.
In 2006, when Joraan was just 19, he planted apricots and apples in the three-acre orchard.
But in 2008 Joraan was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer called synovial sarcoma and he died in 2010 when he was 22.
His parents, Mary Jo and Luverne Forbord, have kept their son’s dream alive and have added to “Joraan’s Orchard,” which now includes pears, plums, hazelnuts, grapes and aronia berries.
A unique variety of apple trees developed by a Minnesota breeder are planted in the “experimental orchard” that’s being grown to find which varieties work best in the terrain — and to honor their son, said Mary Jo Forbord.
Within the last year, the Forbord’s have added a new store to sell fruit from the orchard, as well as the certified organic vegetables grown in their garden and processed meat from their well-known grass-fed beef farm.
While the beef and the vegetables are producing well and are for sale at the store, poor weather and hail has resulted in a small apple crop this year; but they intend to have “apple tasting” events for the different varieties of apples grown in Joraan’s Orchard.
The store is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, or by appointment.
For more information call 320-760-8732
Oakdale Farm & Orchard
23296 235 Street
Apples grown without chemicals are available for sale at Oakdale Farm & Orchard, a family-run farm located about seven miles south of Glenwood.
The hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-6 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information call 320-634-4054