By Starrla Cray
WATERTOWN, DELANO, LESTER PRAIRIE, MN ‘Tis the season for corn mazes, hayrides, and apple pies and Luce Line Orchard (2755 Rose Ave., Watertown) has plenty to go around.
“We have almost double the apples we had last year,” said Abby Pawelk, whose family opened the orchard to the public for the first time last year.
Dotted with nearly 10,000 trees, 4,500 grape vines, and 10 acres of pumpkins, Abby calls the 155-acre property a “little slice of heaven.”
Abby’s parents, Rich Pawelk and Terri Traen (from the KQRS Morning Show) purchased the picturesque farm place in 2004.
“We planted 300 apple trees in 2007,” Rich said. “The next year, we planted 3,000.”
The entire family worked together to make the orchard a reality, including Abby’s twin sister Paige Lynch of Lester Prairie (along with Paige’s husband, Matt Lynch); and their brother, Reed Pawelk of St. Michael (with his wife, Katie).
Although everyone has careers off the farm, they consider the orchard a “labor of love.”
“Once you’ve been a farmer, it never gets out of your blood,” Rich said. When he and Terri got married, their first eight years were spent farming with Rich’s parents near the Luce Line State Trail.
The family enjoys having their orchard near the Luce Line, as well.
“We get a lot of bikers and horseback riders,” Abby said. “Horses get a free apple for stopping by.”
Thursday thru Sunday
Luce Line Orchard is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to dusk.
Additional food and activities are available Saturdays and Sundays, such as mini donuts soaked in apple cider, brats, hot dogs, burgers, and other treats with an apple twist.
Picnic tables and benches are placed throughout the orchard, giving visitors comfort and privacy as they dine.
Rich also created a peaceful nature trail, bordered by a marsh.
“If you’re walking, you can stop to sit and just enjoy the scenery,” he said. “I love it at night; the frogs and toads are almost deafening.”
A few activities for children include mini train rides, hayrides, tree swings, a corn maze, and a climbable hay mountain.
This season, visitors can also submit a name for the decorative baby turtle statue on the property. The name of the mother turtle, Gallup, was selected last year.
Several real animals also make their home on the farm, including two cows, two miniature donkeys, three baby doll sheep, and one miniature pig. The pig was flown in from Texas Sept. 6, and will only weigh 15 to 18 pounds as an adult.
Rich’s passion for apple orchards began several years ago, during a trip to Minnetonka Orchards.
“I showed up to buy apples, and we started chatting,” he said. “One thing led another, and I ended up giving hayrides that same day.”
Rich gradually learned every aspect of the orchard business, and his daughters spent many years working at Minnetonka Orchards, as well.
Watch for a winery
Now that Rich and his family have their own orchard established, they are looking into adding a winery on the property in the next five years.
“It will be somewhat separate from the orchard, and we’ll hopefully have wood-fired pizzas,” Abby said.
For now, Luce Line Orchard’s grapes are sold to Northern Vineyards Winery in Stillwater.
Due to a large number of requests, another future plan is to construct a spot for weddings.
“We’ve probably had 30 people call asking if they could get married here,” Rich said.
To learn more about Luce Line Orchard, call (612) 817-6229 or follow the link to their website at www.heraldjournal.com.
Stargazing party Saturday, Sept. 21
A free stargazing party, hosted by Mike Lynch from WCCO, will take place at Luce Line Orchard (2755 Rose Ave. in Watertown) Saturday, Sept. 21 from 8 to 10 p.m.
Lynch will give a presentation about constellations and planets, and will provide telescopes for attendees to use.
Seven apple varieties available
Luce Line Orchard grows the following apples:
• Zestar! (arrives late August; sweet/sharp tasting)
• SweeTango (arrives early September; sweet and tangy)
• Honeycrisp (arrives mid-September; aromatic flavor)
• Haralson (arrives late September; crisp and tart)
• Keepsake (arrives late September; long shelf life)
• Sweet 16 (arrives late September; sweet and succulent)
• Snow Sweet (arrives mid-October; excellent for salads)