Spring freeze that cut into yields elsewhere wasn’t felt at Appleland
Money doesn’t grow on trees but apples do, and this season’s bumper crop is sure to translate into money in the bank for Appleland.
The family-run apple growers are about halfway through this year’s harvest, and so far the reviews have been good, according to Nick Bares, who now runs the business.
Appleland was started by Bares’ grandfather, George Espantman, in 1966.
“So far, I would say the harvest has been well above average,” Bares said.
Appleland manages 130 acres of orchards in Belgium and rural Saukville, with 18 seasonal varieties of apples.
The annual average yield is about 50,000 bushels.
The apple lineup includes Paula Red, McIntosh, Cortland, Honey Crisp, Spartan, Rome, Gala, Empire, Jonathan, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Early Gold, Ida Red, Macoun, Sonata, Fuji and Zestar.
That diversity insulates the grower from a catastrophic loss if one variety suffers from disease or weather calamity. This time of year, it also spreads the workload over a more manageable period of time.
“We have about 20 seasonal laborers picking apples right now, and they keep busy pretty much from mid-August to mid-October,” Bares said.
“Some of the apples are off the trees, but we haven’t even begun to touch the Goldens, Red Delicious or Empires. Luckily, all of the varieties aren’t ready to be picked at the same time or it would be impossible.”
The first varieties to be picked are the Paula Reds and McIntosh, and the last ones off the tree are the Golden Delicious and Ida Reds.
Geography has proven to be an ally for Appleland this season because the county’s proximity to Lake Michigan protected it from a late spring freeze.
“There was a hard freeze around Mother’s Day that killed the blossoms on trees in a lot of areas, but we didn’t get blossoms here until a few days after that freeze,” Bares said.
According to apple growers in southeastern Wisconsin, the variety hardest hit by the spring frost was the Honey Crisp. Some regional growers have reported losing as much as 90% of their crop.
“There has been a lot of interest from wholesalers in our Honey Crisp crop because they aren’t available at a lot of other orchards. This might be our best crop ever but they are selling pretty fast and are just about gone now,” Bares said.
He said historically, the biggest selling variety for Appleland has been the McIntosh.
“I would say about 25% of our orchards are McIntosh. They seem to be the best sellers,” Bares said.
The orchard has a noticeable presence in the county in the 5,000-square-foot Appleland Farm Market on the west side of Highway 57 in the Town of Saukville.
The building, which offers retail and warehouse space, opened in fall of 2007. Until that time, the business ran out of a stand the Espantman family operated from their farm on Highway B in Belgium.
In addition to apples, the store is stocked with seasonal items, including a heavy emphasis on pumpkins prior to Halloween.
“Business has been good at the store, in fact it has probably been even better than usual,” Bares said.
Still, the trade generated by the store is a small share of the apple grower’s business.
“I would say 95% of our business is with wholesalers who, in turn, sell them to large retailers,” Bares said.
The 27-year-old Bares said this is the most exciting time to be in the apple business.
“I started working at the apple orchard when I was a kid. I graduated from high school and went to college for a year, but have been working here full-time since I was 19. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t still be here,” he said.
IT IS HARVEST TIME for Appleland, Ozaukee County’s largest apple producer. seasonal laborer Carlos Parra had no trouble finding ripe McIntosh apples in the grower’s Town of Belgium orchards. Photo by Sam Arendt