A brand new apple

Physicians Ed and Peggy Callahan took a scientific approach to developing their orchard and produced an apple no one around here has ever tasted

Ed and Peggy Callahan displayed a bushel of apples grown in their small-tree orchard that looks like a vineyard. The ruins of what was once the home of a Port Washington dentist remain on the property. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Ed and Peggy Callahan were amazed that their apple-growing endeavor came to fruition.

After buying a distressed seven-acre property in Port Washington in 2012, and losing all their apples in 2014 to a hungry herd of deer, they finally got to harvest some apples a couple of years later.

“It was pretty shocking that it actually worked,” Ed said.

Now, they have something else to be excited about.

Of more than 20 apple varieties at Dream Apple Farm on County Highway C, they have one nobody has tasted. The Callahans plan to introduce the Cordera apple at this week’s farmers market in Port.

Several years ago, they bought 50 of the new apple trees from Cornell University in New York before the apple was even named. The couple were tempted to name it the Dream Apple, but they were recently notified it will be called Cordera. The word is Spanish for lamb and the fruit is named after the late Robert Lamb, an apple breeder at Cornell from 1948 to 1988.

Cornell, known for its development of new apples since the 1800s, is introducing three new varieties, but Cordera is the only one that would grow at Dream Apple Farm.

“This one was the only one naturally disease resistant,” Ed said.

The Callahans’ farm is certified organic, meaning no synthetic fertilizers are used, only ground compost. As a result, only certain apple varieties will grow there, many of which aren’t well known, such as Hudson’s Golden Gem, SunCrisp, Pixie Crunch and Williams Pride.

Apple trees usually take seven to 10 years to produce apples, but the Cordera is ready to pick after being planted in 2018.

The orchard is a dream come true for Peggy, who said apples have been a motif throughout her life. She remembers seeing people on ladders picking apples from old-time trees when she was a child in northern Illinois. Apples, she said, “hearken back to another time.”

The Callahans are running their orchard a little differently. They seek small trees that grow to no more than 10 feet high so they can be handled from the ground on their trellis system, which is supported by narrow black locust tree posts Their fields from a distance look more like a vineyard than an orchard.

The design allows the apples to get plenty of sunlight, which provides color, and allows wind to dry the trees after rain to slow the spread of disease.

Trees are kept a couple of feet from each other to provide space to grow and prevent pests from traveling from one tree to another. Branches are set to grow horizontally.

The farm’s 1,300 trees are trimmed so they don’t grow in each other’s space. It’s a labor-intensive process.

“We’re small. We have small equipment — me and my little pruner,” Peggy said. “It’s a lot of work to make the tree the best it can be.”

Pruning correctly takes more than just physical work. “There’s an art in that you have to be able to look at that tree — where are you going with this?” Peggy said.

A little known fact, Ed said, is that apple seeds don’t produce the apple variety from which they came; they are a hybrid of their parent trees, so their type will be unknown until fruit is produced.

To grow the same apples, a branch of one tree must be grafted onto another root.

Harvest time ranges from August to November and is determined by “the old-fashioned farmer test,” Peggy said.

“You taste one,” Ed said.

When an apple has enough brix, or sugar, it is ready for market.

The best apples go to the Port farmers market — they’re often just a day or two old, unlike store-bought ones that are months old, the Callahans say — or Ozaukee County’s REKO Ring, an online farmers market. The ugly ones are used for cider and apple butter made in Peggy’s commercial kitchen in the barn. Apples that fall on the ground are picked up quickly to slow pests and disease, and are given to pigs on the Burkel Family Farm in Fredonia.

The Callahans are both physicians — Peggy is retired and Ed works part-time at the Milwaukee Veteran Affairs Hospital — and didn’t take up their apple-growing passion blindly. They attended the Midwest School for Beginning

Apple Growers through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then took the three-day class again after they developed more questions. Taking classes from Professor Amaya Atucha provided the Callahans with a good connection to Cornell.

Not all the apples at Dream Apple Farm are still-life art, but the Callahans say that’s OK. “Part of our mission here is to grow apples that are tasty,” Peggy said. “So many good apples haven’t seen their day in the sun.”

They also grow summer raspberries in a hoop house, a temporary greenhouse structure. Peggy uses the berries for jam. They have a couple of pollinator gardens and clover for bees and butterflies to help the apple trees and berries grow.

“They’re not on the payroll but they are our employees,” Ed said.

The Callahans make the trip from their home in Mequon every day to work on their farm, taking winters off to attend conferences to further their education.

At the end of the day, the Callahans head to the upstairs deck on their barn that provides a scenic view of the farm and Lake Michigan in the distance.

“Sometimes, we’re all about the work,” Peggy said. “At the end of the day, we look at our farm through different eyes and appreciate what we have and what we’ve done.”




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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