From fulfilling Christmas orders to making pies to planning next year's harvest, winter isn't all down time at Door County orchards.
Steve Wood of Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor says that of course, business slows dramatically come winter time, but work doesn’t come to a halt. The orchard still has 15 employees shipping apples, pruning trees, and prepping for winter. Wood is keeping an eye on the forecast like any farmer, hoping winter’s frost doesn’t do damage to his trees when the spring rolls around.
His family has been in the business since 1955, but they didn’t open their large roadside market until 1996. That’s when the popularity of the new Honeycrisp Apple spurred Wood to build the market just north of Egg Harbor on Highway 42. The market has been a popular stop for visitors every since.
As November drew to a close, we caught up with Wood to get a glimpse into winter life at a Door County orchard.
Q: You have a big farm market on Highway 42 just north of Egg Harbor. What’s going on there now that the fall crowds are gone?
A: We closed the market for the season at the end of November, but we still do some online orders and we’ll stay busy with that through Christmas. It’s more of a service for our customers who brought something home and realized they wanted more!
Q: What are some of the most popular products people are ordering online?
A: We’re getting a lot of requests for cherry salsa, cherry butter, chopped cherry jam, and pie filling.
Q: What happens in the orchards now, is there still a lot of work to be done in the fields?
A: Oh yes, we’re still working in the orchard. Apple and cherry roots continue to live all winter long. We’re out there mowing the orchard to control rodents, fertilizing, doing a little bit of pruning. We’ll prune to trim back the trees to more of a Christmas tree shape, to get good light penetration throughout the tree. But when the weather really gets cold and snow gets deep, we won’t do much out there until it warms up in February or March.
Q: With several months of Wisconsin winter coming, what’s the biggest fear you have from a weather standpoint?
A: The biggest fear is we get 20 to 25 degrees below zero, that can be really tough on the trees. That, and a really cold winter with no snow to insulate the ground. Then the frost goes real deep. If trees go dormant by Jan. 1, we’re usually good, but if we get sub-zero temperatures before that can be problematic becomes the trees haven’t hardened for the winter yet.
Q: What about the work inside?
A: We’re still busy wholesaling apples actually. Once we pick them we put them in storage, and we’ll ship them out to distribution centers for a while still. Most of them go to Wisconsin grocery stores, but we’ll ship some to Minnesota, Michigan, and even New York this year. We don’t ship retail however, as we’ve found that they get bruised pretty badly in transit.
Q: How has the business changed since you opened the market?
A: Well, people’s tastes in gifts evolve, but business has remained pretty steady in Door County. We built this place to sell Honeycrisp Apples, and they’re still really popular. One thing that hasn’t changed at all is people’s love of cherries. It’s all cherries all the time.
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