ARTICLE

Apple of his eye

After last year's disappointing harvest, orchards expect bumper crop

Ryan Bennett and Danielle Lunsford of Iowa City browse for apples at Wilson's Orchard on Thursday, August, 1, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. The orchard opened yesterday for the season and a large crop of apples is expected this year. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Ryan Bennett and Danielle Lunsford of Iowa City browse for apples at Wilson's Orchard on Thursday, August, 1, 2013 in Iowa City, Iowa. The orchard opened yesterday for the season and a large crop of apples is expected this year. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
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Paul Rasch is sure this is going to be the best year yet at Wilson’s Orchard. The orchard owner wouldn’t be in this line of work if he wasn’t optimistic.

“If you’re a fruit farmer you have to be optimistic or you’re just going to get out of this business,” Rasch says. “We have expectations for our biggest year ever.”

After 2012’s disappointing crop, Rasch’s expectations for 2013 are, well, ripe.

Last year, a light winter and unfrozen ground in spring meant trees came out of dormancy earlier than usual and trees bloomed in mid-March.

“We were six weeks early on the bloom,” Rasch says. “The problem with that is we had a great bloom, we set a lot of fruit, but then we had the whole month of April.”

During that month’s cool temperatures and freezing nights, “the apples got frozen one by one by one,” Rasch says.

The final harvest was less than 1 percent of normal.

This year, though, his trees are sagging with fruit.

“We had a very cool spring, which we love,” Rasch says. “Everybody was complaining about it, we love it.”

Apple trees bloomed late and did not freeze. With 130 apple varieties, Rasch has been picking fruit since early July.

The fruit looks good this year, he says.

“It’s really clean, it looks really nice.”

On a recent visit to Wilson’s, Haelan Hart of Washington state was pleased the bountiful crop meant she could support local agriculture.

“Instead of getting apples from New Zealand you can get them from here and I think this is a good reason to come out,” she says.

Apples aren’t the only reason to visit the orchard, Rasch says.

“We have 88 acres of ground here, which less than half is planted to apples,” says Rasch, who encourages people to take the orchard’s mantra “Take a walk, eat an apple”

“We want an outdoor experience for people, and of course we want them to enjoy good fruit while they’re here,” he says. Earlier this month Sally Solomon didn’t have to be told twice. It’s a nice place to take a walk “with a purpose,” she says. “We can pick some delicious fresh apples.”

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Off to the orchard:

Depending on the season and weather, Wilson’s Orchard offers more than just apples.

“We love to see people eating good fruit. More and more research shows that you should be doing that,” says owner Paul Rasch.

Rasch has a brother in Michigan who grows cherries with a neighbor that grows blueberries. Working with family and friends, Rasch is able to offer other fruits like cherries, blueberries, peaches, apricots and raspberries.

“We have a way to work with my family in Michigan to bring the fruit immediately after it’s picked, get it down here and get it to people where it’s not sitting on some supermarket shelf for a week or two weeks. It’s just a different product at that point,” Rasch says. “Plus, we can ask them to pick it ripe and get it here. People can enjoy fruit just like they used to get out of their gardens.”

The orchard also plans special events throughout the season. Saturday and Sunday, for example, is Applesauce Weekend at Wilson’s. Learn how to make applesauce and take home recipes.

  • What: Wilson’s Orchard
  • Where: 2924 Orchard Lane NE, Iowa City
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily August through September and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily in October.
  • More information: Wilsonsorchard.com or subscribe to the weekly newsletter by sending an email to wilsonsorchard@gmail.com

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You pick 'em:

Here in Eastern Iowa, you have your, er, pick of orchards. Due to the seasonal nature of these businesses, contact them before you visit.

Allen’s Orchard

Find it: 5801 N 10th St., Marion; (319) 377-1408; allensorchard@gmail.com; allensorchard.net

Open: 10 a.m to 5 p.m. weekends; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. week of Aug. 19.

Hinegardner Orchard

Find it: 1348 295th St., Montour; (641) 492-6353; hinie@iowatelecom.net; hinegardnersorchard.com

Open: Weekends only from 7 a.m. to dark from Sept. 15 to 30.

Honey Creek Acres

Find it: 799 Swisher View Dr. SW, Swisher; (319) 857-4322; honeycreekacres@southslope.net; Honeycreekacres.com

Open: Open weekends only 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in August; daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in September and October

Timeless Prairie Orchard

Find it: 3049 280th St., Winthrop; (319) 934-3846; timelessprairie@att.net

Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays September through Novemeber

Source line: Source: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship 

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