Apples of their eyes
MILTON -- Providing tasty, quality apples to area residents and visitors is a labor of love for a local couple.
Darcie and Todd Haakinson operate Hawk's Orchard, 9034 N. Serns Road in Milton. The orchard is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from early September through late October.
The 10-acre orchard features 14 varieties of apples grown on 2,200 trees, and Darcie said most of the apples begin to blossom in May.
However, operating the apple orchard takes a big bite out of their lives and keeps the couple busy throughout the year.
That's because they have other jobs: Darcie works as a dental hygienist, and Todd is a lineman for Alliant Energy.
“A lot of times people think you just plant the trees and you pick the apples, but there's things you have to do throughout the year,” Darcie said. “In the winter, my husband is out here pruning the trees. Usually in January or so, I cut out the lower limbs, or if (the tree) needs more sunlight, I might cut out some of the thicker limbs so it can get sunlight.
“In the summertime you have to monitor the pests, because there's the Japanese beetle that starts eating away at the trees,” she added. “There are turkeys that come in. When the apples are ripe, we have a lot of birds that will start pecking at them, so we will lose apples with that. There's always something here dealing with birds and animals.”
The couple started planting the trees in 2010 and opened for business in 2013. Todd developed the idea after his years of experience working at the Apple Hut in Beloit.
“We were looking for a change, and we thought it would be fun to start (an orchard),” Darcie said. “Todd said, 'Wouldn't it be great to start an orchard?' There's a lot that goes into it, so we attended an apple school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“That's how we first started learning about it. We went through a multiple range of classes, from business to what type of orchard you want. We learned about the trees and the varieties, just a little bit of everything.”
But she said it's been a labor of love for them ever since. And that means offering as many varieties as possible for their customers.
She said some varieties are more popular than others.
“People love honey crisp, but everyone has their favorites,” Darcie said. “People love Cortlands. It really depends. It's good to have some different varieties. We have varieties that are ready at the end of August, some are ready in September and some varieties aren't ready until the end of October. They're ready at different times depending on the weather.”
Roberta Haakinson, Tom's mother, said some varieties are better for eating, while others are better for baking.
“I would say three-fourths of them are good to bake with, then you have some like the Cortlands, they're a soft apple, so they're better for applesauce,” Roberta said. “Some people like to bake with (Cortlands), but then you get a mushy pie. But some people like mushy pies. We've got something for everybody. Zestars are bigger apples, and they have a lighter consistency. But if you just want to grab an apple and eat it, they're almost too big. So, the galas are better for eating.”
Darcie said because most of the trees are dwarves, they don't allow too much apple picking, which means most of the apples are available for purchase by the bag. The dwarf trees can last between 15 to 20 years and can be more durable than some of the larger trees, Darcie said.
“The nice thing with these dwarf trees is they're a lot easier to maintain than the bigger apple trees,” Darcie said. “It's amazing what these little trees can carry.”
Darcie said they might add more varieties of apples in the future.
“We don't have any plans for next year,” Darcie said. “We were going to grow some new varieties this year, but we weren't able to get them. We have a lot to handle right now. We just thought we should take a little break so we can manage everything.”
Besides apples, the Haakinsons grow pumpkins.
“It wasn't a good pumpkin year unfortunately with the rain and us working other jobs and the weed control,” Darcie said. “We had a lot last year, but not so much this year.”
The couple started selling apple cider doughnuts this year, which has proven to be a big hit among customers.
“We just had our first weekend doing multiple batches,” Darcie said. “It went well, and it's keeping us busy.”
The orchard also features apple cider, hot olives, flavored popcorn, hot pickles, hot mushrooms and honey produced by local beekeepers.
“Their bees will come over and pollinate our trees, and we sell their honey,” Darcie said.
Darcie said her responsibilities as a dental hygienist sometimes take over while she is working at the orchard.
“There's a kid that comes in and he's always buying cider, and I say, 'I'm glad you like it, but you need to take care of your teeth. Apple cider is acidic, and I want you to floss so you don't get cavities,'” Darcie said. “I always say in moderation, but I really don't push the two worlds too much.”
Although the Haakinsons spend a lot of time at the orchard, they receive help from friends and family.
“We recruit a lot of family and some friends,” Darcie said. “We have a family friend who is a big help. Everybody works at their other jobs, and then they come to the orchard when they can make it. We have two daughters, and they help out. They're 16 and 13, and we put them to work.”
They also attend Wisconsin Apple Growers Association continuing education classes.
“We try to soak up as much knowledge as we can,” Darcie said. “I think you learn a lot from the other growers, and we've met some other people and learned what works for them. Everybody has been so nice and helpful.”
Darcie said their hard work has paid off, because the orchard has received a lot of support from the community.
“(The orchard) keeps getting busier,” Darcie said. “The word keeps getting out more, so we have a short time span selling apples. Luckily, we've been able to get our cooler ready to sell another variety for the next weekend.”
For more information, call 608-247-6301 or search for Hawk's Orchard on Facebook.