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Fruits of their labor top 50,000 bushels this fall PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 16:06

Local family’s 130-acre Appleland orchard is working overtime to get this year’s crop to market

    If an apple a day makes you healthy, Nick and Jacob Bares will have a long and healthy life.
    They and their grandfather George Espantman are partners at Appleland Farm Market, a northern Ozaukee County orchard where they expect to harvest between 50,000 and 55,000 bushels of apples this fall.    
    “That’s a lighter average,” said Nick, who noted that some years the harvest reaches 75,000 bushels.
    The spring started out cold, which damaged some blossoms, and the early wet weather meant it was difficult to control apple scab, but the summer growing season was almost ideal, he said.
    “The rain was about perfect here,” Nick said. “It wasn’t too hot. It was a good growing season.”
    Jacob added, “Sunny days and cool nights bring out the color. They’re a good size and color this year.”
    The Bares brothers are the third generation of their family to operate Appleland, but they didn’t start the orchard.
    The orchard in Belgium was originally planted by George Schroeder in 1946, and in 1963 was sold to Stuart Carlson. It’s believed Carlson bought the orchard with the hope oil would be discovered there, according to the orchard’s history, but when it wasn’t found Carlson sold the orchard in 1966 to Shah-Bahram “George” and Kaye Espantman — the Bares brothers’ grandparents.
    The couple grew the business, buying land in the Town of Saukville for an orchard in 1978. While George and Kaye are still involved in the operation, their grandsons handle the bulk of the work.
    “It takes a load off me,” George said. “They do all the work. They do everything.”
    And work they do. This year, Appleland began harvesting apples on Aug. 20, and Nick said he expects it to last until about Friday, Oct. 20.
    The operation was abuzz with activity late last week. Employees were out in the field picking apples, and inside the packing house workers were hustling to sort and bag the apples before they were sent to markets and stores.
    And at the family’s Town of Saukville facility, the market was open, selling apples and produce to customers.
    Appleland produces 15 varieties of apples on 130 acres — about 100 acres in Belgium and 30 in Saukville.
    The most popular are Macintosh — Jacob called them “The Midwest apple,” adding about a third of their acreage is devoted to the variety — Cortland, Honeycrisp and Galas.
    Appleland brought in migrant workers this year to help harvest the crop, building a bunkhouse to house them.
    “We made a huge investment,” Nick said. “But we had no choice. We lost a lot of our crop last year. We couldn’t get people to pick it.
    “When I started here, you had that older generation that grew up on farms willing to pick. That’s not the case anymore.”
    Appleland hired 15 workers from Mexico to pick apples through a national program, and it’s worked out well, he added.
    The crop is picked by hand, then brought to the processing plant. There, large wooden bins holding 10 bushels each are placed in the line and filled with water. The apples float out and are washed, sanitized, polished and lightly waxed in an automated line.
    Along the way, workers check them for blemishes, bruises and imperfections, pulling out those that don’t meet standards. They are sold as deer apples or sent to a processor for cider.
    As they go through the line, the apples are checked for size — they must be at least 2-1/2 inches in diameter — and each one is weighed. Four photographs of each apple are taken by a machine to judge the color on each side to determine its grade.
    Appleland only sells extra fancy graded fruit, Jacob said. Fruit that doesn’t meet that standard or that is undersized is sent out for processing into cider.
    Roughly 10,000 bushels are sold for cider each year, he added.
    The fruit is then bagged or labeled for individual sale. Generally, he said, the larger fruit is sold individually instead of being bagged.
    Appleland also produces fruit to meet standards set by some of its customers. Schools want a specific sized fruit, he said, as do correctional facilities.
    “We used to put everything into bags,” Nick said. “Now, we cater to our customers needs.”
    While some people think that all you need to do to run an orchard is plant a few trees and let nature do the rest, that’s not the case.
    “You have to know your diseases and insects,” Nick said. “You have to train the tree to grow the way you want it.”
    The way a tree is pruned and the branches trained will help determine the rate at which the fruit grows, he noted.
    Appleland once was home to large trees that spread out, roughly 30 trees to an acre, but now smaller trees are planted. That means not only can more trees be planted in the same amount of space — as many as 1,000 trees per acre —but also that the fruit will be produced quicker, generally within four years compared to 20 years previously, Nick said.
    The pruning is generally done in winter, he noted.
    “The whole 130 acres, every tree, needs attention,” Nick said. “We prune trees all winter. When it’s zero degrees and sunny, we’re out there. Those are beautiful days.”
    And the orchard is constantly changing. Appleland plants about five acres of new trees — 5,000 trees — every year, replacing aging trees with newer ones.
    But apples aren’t the only crop at Appleland. Other fruit, such as pears, strawberries, rhubarb, plums, peaches and cherries are grown too. In fall, pumpkins and squash are among the offerings.
    The family also used to raise bees, but now contracts that to a beekeeper. However, they still sell the honey from Appleland’s bees.
    “We were just to the point we were into too much,” Nick said. “We just couldn’t do it anymore.”

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