“Growing peaches is gambling,” Andrew Klauck of County Line Orchard says with a knowing smile. Like any good entrepreneur, he likes to take calculated risks. When he began the journey of growing peaches in Wisconsin, Klauck’s family told him that he was crazy. His children said that peaches could not be grown on Wisconsin soil in Wisconsin weather. A nearby neighbor sold peaches, but he brought them up from Michigan.
Cheryl, his wife and partner in the family farm, says that he “likes to prove people wrong.”
Klauck remembers the inception of the idea to sell Wisconsin peaches, “When I walked into any farmer’s market, everyone had the same thing.” He wanted to offer something different.
Freezing winters, periodic drought-like conditions, and fickle storms make daily care and attention to the trees vital and difficult. One of the worst seasons to date happened in 2008. That year of unfortunate weather left their 50-acre farm with only six peaches to harvest.
By contrast, this summer produced a bumper crop of the Paul Friday 007, Lucky 13, Stellas, and other varieties of peaches grown at the private orchard in Manitowoc County. The plums and apples this season are also looking plump and juicy.
While working a full-time job, Klauck spends what little extra time he has in the constant study of peaches, plums, and apples through University of Michigan, out-of-state agriculture courses, and research. Every day he and his wife walk the orchard filled with multiple varieties of all of the fruits he has studied to monitor and to cultivate the trees.
“When you buy a peach in a store, they [the growers] pick them green, not at a ripe stage.” The hardness of these peaches makes them easier to transport. Klauck found that peaches sold at the average grocery store are simply unripe or at the ‘hardball’ stage of firmness without the right color or aromas. These were not peaches he wanted to eat.
Klauck says that he harvests only when the peaches have reached a certain level of sweetness. The peaches soften from the ‘hardball’ to the ‘tennis’ ball stage of firmness, a more desirable stage for harvest. At this point, the side of the peach that does not face the sun turns from green to yellow and the peach overall is more reddish.
He demonstrates how to ‘palm’ a peach like a ball to avoid bruising the flesh of the fruit and plucks it from a tree with little effort. “When a peach is ready for picking,” he explains, “it has a little ‘give’ in response to light pressure,” like a tennis ball. Another telltale sign of ripeness for eating is the strength of the peach’s aroma. As a peach softens, it gives off more of its aroma.
The way Klauck harvests peaches and the other fruit on the orchard reflects his belief that “everything ripens in its own time.” He refuses to sacrifice the quality of the end product for quantity, or for increased speed to market.
How Being “Local” Makes a Difference
Klauck explains that most peaches in grocery stores are sprayed with a fungicide to inhibit mold that would otherwise feed on fruit sugars during transportation across state borders and to help them last on the grocery shelf. To avoid spoilage, Klauck eliminates any need for fungicide by selling fruit as close as possible to the day he picks it by hand. Klauck says, “With apples, it is a little harder, but we eat what we grow, so we try not to use chemicals. I like clean food.”
Next in the line-up of fruits for the fall season are customers’ favorite Honeycrisp apples and Stanley plums. Even with more customary fruits of Wisconsin, Klauck finds and grows the ones that please customer’s palates.
He explains that he thins out the apples on the Honeycrisp apple trees. Each tree has a limited capacity for what it can grow, so if some apples are removed by thinning, the remaining apples grow larger and have higher sugar content because the sugars become concentrated in the smaller crop.
The ‘small hills’ that can be felt with the fingers along the surface of Klauck’s Honeycrisp apples are signs of careful and deliberate thinning of the trees to increase the sweetness and size of the fruit. Many apple growers that supply stores prefer a higher yield of apples to greater sweetness. A perfectly smooth surface does not necessarily reflect perfect flavor, though customers at a grocery store may be accustomed to looking for that as a sign of a good apple.
Like any good businessman, Klauck takes a gamble but also has a diversified portfolio. He has Courtland, McIntosh, and Granny Smith apples, other varieties of plums, and even some pears too.
Look for County Line Orchard apples and plums this fall at the Sheboygan Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Contact Judy Taushchek (920) 457-7272 ext. 11 for inquiries about County Line Orchard or the Sheboygan Farmers Market. http://www.localharvest.org/appalachian-crafts-csa-M796
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