Apples ripe and ready for picking at Garwood Orchards
LAPORTE, Ind. -- Garwood Orchards has been farming the same land, perfecting their apple crop, since 1831. Right now, you can visit the orchard as the 2021 crop is ready for picking.
"September is our busiest season," explains Brad Moenkhaus. "Especially when the honeycrisp come in."
Moenkhaus has been driving the u-pick tractor at the orchard for twelve years now. This is the tractor that shuttles people from the market to the trees, and it is where a lot of excitement builds for families.
"When the parents bring their kids out, they get to see how the product is grown, instead of just going to a grocery store and thinking that they were grown right there," he said.
The family aspect of the farm is what keeps many families coming year after year. The Freyer family has been picking here for about ten years.
"Well the apples are huge," Mary Freyer, a customer, said with a grin. "We have such a good time here. The kids really enjoy it."
As Freyer was chatting with me, her granddaughter was snacking on one of the honeycrisp apples she had picked.
The Garwood family has been the center of all of this since the start. Carey Garwood has worked here since the 90s, then she married into the family. While they've grown apples for a long time, I joked that they've been battling weather for a long time.
"It's true. There's a lot of things as farmers you have to worry about," she agreed. "You have things like hail. It will really damage the apple trees."
In all their years, the Garwoods have learned a thing or two about how to adapt around weather. They've installed a hail cannon, which literally stops hail from forming. The waves sent from the cannon change the consistency of the precipitation from hail to more of a slush. This change can save the tender fruit crop from being destroyed by heavy hail.
Rain, or lack of rain, doesn't impact apples as much as you might think.
"Apples are pretty resistant to things like drought or low rain amounts," Garwood told me. "They're not like a vegetable crop."
A bigger impact is wind. To protect trees from being blown over, they've moved to a trellis system, where trees are supported by wires.
"They're tied off to the wires from post to post," Moenkhaus explained. "To keep them from blowing out of the ground, because the apples have a shallow root system."
The orchard has dwarf trees to aid in growing them along the trellis system.
Because they've been able to adapt, the orchard is enjoying a nice full crop this year. Even though the apples are looking fully grown, it is important to remember that not all of them are ready to be picked just yet.
"They ripen at different times," Garwood reminded. "If we're telling you, 'hey, don't pick those jonagolds yet,' it's because they're not ready yet. They don't taste the way they should."
The farmers at the orchard are frequently testing different varieties of apple for their sugar level. When the level is correct, they will allow people to begin picking that type of apple. This ensures the apples that go home with people taste amazing.
While this is important for people at home in Michiana, it is also meant to help people in other states, as the orchard ships apples near and far.
"If you're buying them in a grocery store in Ohio, they're gonna taste just as good as they do eating them fresh from the tree today," Garwood said proudly, as she grabbed an apple off the tree to take a bite.
There is a lot to do at the orchard besides picking apples. The market has fresh produce, donuts, cider, flowers, and other treats. There's also a weekend grill with brats and hamburgers.
"It's really an affordable, family fun event," Garwood said. "I think last year, that was reiterated. We were open because it was safe. It was safe to be outside."
Amid the pandemic last year, she believes many customers visited for the first time, because it was one of the few things that was open. Now, she hopes that the first-time visitors from last year will remain regular customers and take advantage of this fruitful year.
"We've been very fortunate," she said. "We've got an excellent crop of apples."
For more information about the orchard, including their hours and the expected picking dates for different apple varieties, you can visit their website.