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‘The quality is outstanding’: Delayed apple crop worth the wait

HAL WENZTEL, OWNER of Pleasant View Orchard and Bakery in Niagara, Wis., checks a rain gauge mounted near a tree of McIntosh apples. (Brian Christensen/Daily News photo)

NIAGARA, Wis. — Red, yellow, green and gold — as summer yields to autumn, so begins the year’s apple harvest.

“It’s a few days behind schedule,” 74-year-old Hal Wentzel said. “Not much. I wouldn’t say more than a week.”

Wentzel and his wife, Carol, own Pleasant View Orchard and Bakery in Niagara and have been growing apples since 2002. The two started with 180 trees, though today the orchard is home to about 2,200 trees and 20 different cultivars of apple, including Honeycrisp, Zestar along with the classic McIntosh.

While the orchard has not produced a record-setting number of apples this season, there have been enough warm, sunlit days to sweeten the fruit and cool nights to color the peel, Wentzel said.

“The quality is outstanding,” he said. “They’re coloring up like I’ve never seen; they’ve got good size.”

MORNING DEW COLLECTS on a cluster of McIntosh apples at Pleasant View Orchard and Bakery in Niagara, Wis. (Brian Christensen/Daily News photo)

Wentzel attributes that quality to a number of factors — in particular, the trees naturally kept down the amount of fruit so what developed turned out better, he explained.

“My theory is that with the hard winter we had, a lot of the flowers were sterile,” Wentzel said. “(Normally) you have to thin your crop anyway. If you want fruit every year, you have to thin your crop every year — especially in years where they’re really heavy.”

Wentzel prunes the top of his trees to better expose apples to sunlight, contrary to the typical practice of cutting the lowest branches.

In addition to sunlight, the area has had adequate rainfall, Wentzel said. Though each tree is watered by a drip irrigation system, the tubing has been dry for some time.

“I haven’t irrigated in probably three weeks,” Wentzel said.

Another significant factor in the quality of this year’s produce is the lack of pests ravaging the orchard.

“I’ve never seen a year with so few insect problems,” Wentzel said. “I’ve only sprayed twice for insects. That’s unheard of.”

But a good apple harvest begins with planting suitable cultivars.

“There’s a lot of varieties that will not grow here,” Wentzel said, adding, “You have to know which ones are fit for this climate.”

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