It’s the right time of year for that sweet-tart Wisconsin treat

Ken Esmond enjoys a quick laugh with Hafs Orchard employees Kathy Lynch and Joanne Tobias. Tobias remarked that over the years, the old cash register has taught many of the younger employees to make change. (Photo by Karen Bullock)

By Karen M. Bullock

Correspondent

                  An apple a day isn’t far away for area residents.

                  With more than a dozen apple orchards in the area there are plenty award-winning varieties apples to go around.

                  One such place is Hafs Road Orchard’s, Genoa City, with 2,000 trees growing 50 varieties.

                  The orchard was originally planted by Oscar Hafs and his father-in-law during the early 1940s and consisted of 400 standard-sized trees in 25 varieties planted 30 feet apart.

                  In the early 1980s, Richard and Debbie Polansky found themselves unemployed. They lived in Dover and a neighbor was renting a small orchard and needed people to pick apples.

                  Debbie helped pick and the next season, she and Richard ended up in charge. They rented the property and were responsible for the pruning, spraying and harvesting. By that time, Oscar Hafs was in his 80s and was looking for someone to take over his orchard.

                  The Polanskys struck a partnership with the people who were renting the house to them. Debbie said they bought in quickly, signing by mid-August, just in time for the harvest.

                  “Those were exciting times,” she recalled.

                  Because of the name recognition, the Polanskys kept the Hafs name, calling it “Hafs Road Orchard.”

                  The Polanskys operated the orchard with the other couple for 10 years and in 1992, they began operating the orchard on their own. As the standard-sized trees aged, they were replaced with semi dwarf and then eventually, fully dwarf trees.

                  The varieties grew to 50. Some of the original varieties are no longer grown at the orchard as modern tastes have changed. The varieties grown to ripen in the summer were most often used for cooking applesauce and pies. Those are not as popular now and plant breeders have been striving for a crisper eating apple.

                  In the early 1990s, the University of Minnesota introduced the Honey Crisp. The Polanskys did a small test plot of 60 trees and because of customer feedback they “dove right in.” Of the 2,000 trees they have, 1,200 are now Honey Crisp.

Reaching capacity

                  For a long time, there was plenty of room to plant new varieties. As space became available, they would look at the mix and decide what they were short on or if there was something new they wanted to try. For nearly 10 years, they have been out of room for new trees, although they will have some space for another 400 trees this spring.

                  While the new trees will yield a few apples next season, the Polanskys say they will watch the production of the trees closely since a tree that overproduces one year will most likely underproduce the next.

                  For a dwarf tree, the yield is about 200 apples, which is about 1-1/2 bushels; the standard trees will produce 15-20 bushels. The goal is a consistent yield – something that is accomplished by thinning, where workers pick the green apples so the energy goes into fewer but better apples. If a tree’s crop is too large, the apples won’t ripen properly or taste good.

                  Debbie said the buds of the apple trees differentiate between growing apples, leaves or branches for the next season’s crop by July. By balancing the crop this season, they guarantee a good crop for next year.

                  Throughout the summer, they have a crew of young people who help thin out the crop. All of the employees are seasonal, with Richard being the sole full timer. The employees pick, sort and go to the markets. There are even some volunteers.

                  There are some pesticides that are used on the crop. The Polanskys have been practicing integrated pest management, which is a strategy to monitor the disease and insect population in an effort to spray at the most effective time and use as little product as possible.

                  However, not all insects are detrimental. Pollination is essential and is accomplished by the native insects in the area. In the early days, there were beehives and, at one point, bees were even rented during the blossom season.

                  With such a diverse natural environment, Richard and Debbie said they have found they can get the job done with the insects that are there.

                  Apples also need pollen from a different apple tree to set the fruit, so they have a crab apple tree as their “insurance policy.” Debbie said they have the Golden Delicious variety, which is also good for pollination.

 

Year for Applesauce

                  Richard has declared this the “Year for Applesauce” as both Wisconsin and Michigan are enjoying a large crop. Richard explained that people use the abundant fruit to make sauce.

                  “It is a good food at a reasonable price. Some people really count on it and ration it through the year,” he said.

                  The store at the orchard is the anchor for the business, although they sell at some farmer’s markets too – including Kenosha and Lake Geneva. In addition to selling apples, Richard makes caramel apples using the Honey Crisp. Not every apple sells, so some are used to make cider. In the past, they have made applesauce and apple butter to sell at the store. They also donate apples to area food pantries.

                  When asked about her favorite apple, Debbie answered, “Whatever we’re picking. They taste best when you pick it and eat it. I love Honey Crisp – no doubt about that.”

                  She added that she liked the Golden Russet, with skin like a potato and the Gold Rush – a tart apple that comes late in the season.

            But this time of year Honey Crisp is king and the shop is busy with people seeking the popular new variety.

 

Where to get your apple fix

                  Autumn in Wisconsin: deep blue skies and crisp temperatures – the perfect backdrop for a visit to a local orchard.

                  The following is a list of area orchards compiled by the Wisconsn Apple Growers Association.

 

 Apple Holler

5006 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant

(262) 884-7100; www.appleholler.com

 Awe’s Apple Orchard

8081 S. Lovers Lane Franklin, WI 53132

(414) 425-1426

 Brightonwoods Orchard

1072 288th Ave., Burlington

(262) 878-3000; www.brightonwoodsorchard.com.

 Craigland Farms

S110W26660 Craig Ave., Mukwonago, WI 53149

(262) 263-4063

 Ela Orchard

31308 Washington Ave., Rochester

(262) 534-2545

 The Elegant Farmer

1545 Main St., Mukwonago

www.elegantfarmer.com

(262) 363-6770

 Elsen Orchard

115 S. Westwood Drive Burlington, WI 53105

(262) 534-5032

 Hafs Road Orchard

W632 Hafs Road, Genoa City

(262) 279-3638

 Mission Hills Orchard

N9400 Stone School Road Mukwonago, WI 53149

(262) 363-2591

 Oriole Springs Orchard

35032 128th St., Twin Lakes

(262) 877-2436

 The Provencal Farmer

18000 93rd St., Bristol

(262) 857-9633

 Schofield’s Orchard

W3676 Highway 50, Lake Geneva

(262) 248-2307

 Quednow’s Heirloom Apple Orchard

W5071 County Road ES Elkhorn

(262) 642-9735