By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in the case of physician Heidi Wuerger, apples are part of the family business.
Heidi, her husband, Dave, and their three children 14-year-old twins Brock and Gretchen, and 11-year-old Sydney own Apple Tree-O orchard in Delano, which is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout the fall.
“The ‘Tree-O’ part is actually named for our three kids,” Heidi said. “It’s really their business.”
For the Wuergers, Apple Tree-O provides opportunities to learn about agriculture, finances, weather, marketing, public relations, and hard work.
“We help with pretty much everything picking apples, selling them, making signs, and mowing the lawn,” Brock said. “It sounds weird, but I really like mowing.”
“I like making pies,” Gretchen added.
For Sydney, the highlight is “eating the apples.”
All three love the SweeTango variety, which is a crisp, sweet combination of Honeycrisp and Zestar! apples.
A sweet start
Incidentally, the SweeTango is one of the reasons Apple Tree-O exists in the first place.
Heidi’s parents (who own an orchard in Fitchburg, WI) heard about the SweeTango in 2008, just as it was being developed by the University of Minnesota.
“Originally, only Minnesota growers could get the apple,” Heidi said, explaining that since her parents weren’t able to grow it, they encouraged her and Dave to start their own orchard.
“There was an opportunity to get in right from the very beginning,” Dave said.
He was impressed with the high-density technique Heidi’s parents were using for their orchard, and implemented the same system in Delano. Trellises keep the plants close together, allowing for 600 trees on less than one acre of land.
“Because it’s smaller, it’s a lot easier to maintain,” Dave said.
Apples grown on the Wuerger farm include SweeTango, Zestar!, Cortland, Honeycrisp, and Haralson. Melrose will be available as soon as the trees mature.
“We sell dried apples, too,” Heidi said. “It’s a nice snack for people.”
A crispy crop
Heidi said this year’s harvest is slightly later than average, but she had already picked some ripe Zestar! apples last Monday, with plans to sell them at the Delano Farmers Market.
“For us, it’s actually been a pretty good year,” she said, adding that the orchard wasn’t harmed by the wet spring, because the trees are on top of a hilly slope.
Apple Tree-O is open on weekends throughout the fall, from noon to 5 p.m. Heidi said she hopes the orchard can be a place where families go to pick apples, have a picnic, and enjoy the outdoors together.
To learn more, call (763) 390-7795 or go to the Apple Tree-O website.