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New Kid on the Block
by P.L. Elliott

The orchards of Door County continue to be an important industry. Though the wonderful cherries are most often associated with Door County, apples are also grown in abundance. Come the warming-tide of May, spring breezes tease us with the apple blossoms' promise of a sweet bounty ahead. And when there's a Honeycrisp apple tree in bloom the wait until harvest can't pass quickly enough.

A recent addition to the Door County orchards, the Honeycrisp is attracting a lot of attention and drawing crowds clamoring for more. And more they will have, as the local orchards rush to get trees established to meet the demand.

Richard Weidman, of the University of Wisconsin Experimental Station, claims the Honeycrisp apple is a "Midwest success story." In an industry increasingly dominated by recent imports - the Gala from New Zealand, the Fuji from Japan - the Honeycrisp is making surprising inroads.

These apples certainly live up to their trademarked "Explosively Crisp" moniker. "It snaps. The piece of apple almost pops off into your mouth," says University of Minnesota Horticulture Professor Jim Luby, one of the new apple's developmental godfathers. A winning all-purpose apple, the Honeycrisp offers a pleasingly crisp sweet-tart bite, but they are not limited to out-of-hand eating. These apples also star in the kitchen- any recipe in which apples are featured will be improved when using the Honeycrisp.

In the history of the apple industry, the Honeycrisp variety is a "new kid" on the block. Developed by the University of Minnesota from a Macoun and Honeygold cross (the Honeygold itself a cross between the Golden Delicious and Haralson), the new apple variety was introduced in 1991. Luby believes the Honeycrisp to be "the best, most exciting apple we've ever introduced." Weidman wholeheartedly agrees.

In 1991 the Experimental Station, just north of Sturgeon Bay on Highway 42, received four seedling trees to plant in their test block. By 1995 the trees were producing apples of such excellent eating and storage quality there was no difficulty recommending the variety to the local apple orchards. Honeycrisps are being harvested and sold at the Wood Orchards and the Seaquist Orchards, while the Lautenbach Orchard's Honeycrisp trees are probably a year or so away from fruit production.

Jim Wood, of Sturgeon Bay's Wood Orchards, a wholesale apple operation with a seasonal fruit market north of Egg Harbor on Highway 42, now has 40 acres in Honeycrisp and sells all he can produce. Seaquist Orchards, which operates a retail fruit and vegetable market on Highway 42 north of Sister Bay, has also had excellent results with their Honeycrisp apple harvest. Both admit the biggest challenge has been in meeting the demand. All you have to do is put the "Honeycrisps Available" sign up outside your market and the crowds haul them off. Wood describes the typical Honeycrisp introduction: "Our fruit stand customers will first buy a four-pound bag - then rush back in for a bushel." Count my family among those who can't get enough of these apples.

Door County's cool climate, with our cold, crisp nights, is well suited to growing the Honeycrisp apple variety. In fact, the Door County climate is so perfect for the Honeycrisp it has created a problem. According to Wood, "One of the greatest challenges of growing Honeycrisp is preventing the apples from growing too large." The Honeycrisp is a large, attractive apple, but too many maturing apples will bunch up on the tree. If not thinned, the apples won't color up and their weight may also harm the tree.

It's a continual learning and adjustment process when an orchard attempts to introduce a new variety of fruit. This has been a particularly exciting period for the Honeycrisp, though, because the apple sells itself. Loaded down with boxes of the apples, Wood Orchards sent representatives out in local parades last summer, where they walked up and down the streets handing out their Honeycrisps. By the time they returned to the market so had the throngs of parade-goers, looking for more of those apples.

It's never easy to make your living off the land, and when so much of the beauty of Door County is maintained for us by those who manage her orchards and farms, it is to the benefit of all for these businesses to thrive. With the aid of exciting new produce, such as the Honeycrisp apple, the orchards and the character they give the land, will continue to delight us. So, when next you're in Door County be sure to enjoy a Honeycrisp apple and help support these lovely orchards. Believe me, after your first bite, this will be a mission you'll happily support!

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Black Twig Design
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