Apple season underway

Harvest better than last year’s despite heat and drought

Imagine working in a 150-year old barn looking across open doors at thousands of apple trees while making caramel apples.

Sophomore Carlie Simkunas started working in the store at Ferguson’s Orchards in Eau Claire about 2-weeks ago and said that’s the best part of her new job.

“I was looking for a job,” she said. “I was like, wow, I’ve lived with an apple orchard by my house every year since I was one, I love apple orchards and they’re so much fun.”

Andy Ferguson is the owner of Ferguson’s Orchards and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association.

He said last year was a bad year for apple growers around the state because of a late-freeze that killed off a lot of the tree flowers. This year, however, the apple season is going great despite the drought and heat.

“Really all that affected is that the apples are becoming ripe a little later,” he said. “Other than that though, we have a perfect crop hanging out there on the trees and the season is up and going.”

One way Ferguson’s Orchards counters the drought is by putting their 4000 younger trees on irrigation to prevent the stunt of their growth.  But there can be nothing done about the heat Ferguson said.

“With the heat, there is nothing really we could do,” he said. “I wish we could air condition the whole orchard but not really a possibility.”

Loretta Young co-owns Class Apple, an orchard in Eau Claire with her husband Dale Young.

“We just opened yesterday and it’s going pretty good,” she said. “Right now we have Paula Reds in the cooler, we’re just starting to pick McIntosh but it is hard to find the red ones which indicate more ripeness.”

Young said that the drought has caused the apples to be not quite as big as they should be but also added that the season is better than last year.

Ferguson, whose opening day was Aug.24, said that business has been going great since the weather began feeling more like fall.

“When we first opened it was still 90-some-degrees so people aren’t really into the fall apple picking kind of mood,” he said. “But now, we were packed yesterday.”

Customers can pick their own apples as they walk through bountiful acres of apple trees or choose from pre-picked apples at both orchards.

“We have a lot of attractions, we call it agra-entertainment,” Ferguson said. “A lot of people come for the hayrides and of course apple picking.”

Many varieties of apples such as Sweet Tango, Ginger Gold, Cortland, Empire, Honey Gold and Connell Red are in season.

“We grow about 55 different varieties,” said Ferguson. “Right now we have Honeycrisp, Zestar!, Sweet Tango, Ginger Gold, Duchess and Cortland.”

“My favorite apple is the Zestar!,” said Simkunas. “It’s not overpoweringly sweet, it’s kind of a tart apple, it’s really, really crisp and crunchy.”