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The story can be written in letter form if you like. You can submit stories of up to 1,000 words, but pieces of 700 words stand the best chance of publication.

CORE COMPETENCY. Veteran apple growers Elaine and Godfrey Gabriel look forward to seeing the orchard thrive with a new owner.

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Enjoy this sample feature story
from a recent issue.
Hilltop Orchard Yields More Than Apples

 

Grateful couple harvested
bushels of memories.  

 

By Godfrey Gabriel, Antigo, Wisconsin

IF YOU DRIVE 5 miles due east of Antigo—past the flat ground so appealing to potato growers—you’ll reach a little clutter of hills.

    Here you’ll find Grandview Orchard, which is rather improbable. Why so? Because apples are not supposed to grow so far north...away from any tempering lake effect...on such impoverished soil.

    Yet this 25-acre patch of trees produces apples by the bushels, 3,000 to 5,000 bushels per season, and it has done so for 110 years!

    The orchard sits high on a hill bulldozed by the last glacier. Cold air tumbles downhill in spring, which protects fragile blossoms growing up high. We’ve seen differences of 15 to 20 degrees within just 100 yards.

     Hard frosts at this critical time of year have cost many apple growers their crops. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. 

    Our ground is a fine example of Wisconsin terminal moraine. That’s where the glacier ended its advance, leaving a maddening mixture of rocks, boulders, sand, gravel and topsoil so thin you could nudge it aside with your boot.  

This Soil Rocks

    Believe me, it’s been an adventure trying to plant trees in this stuff. Sometimes I think we must live on the moon! But apple trees love well-drained soil and for this, we’re again blessed.

    Now in our mid-80s, my wife, Elaine, and I are happy that we raised five children here, because growing apples enriched our lives greatly. The kids picked up the work ethic that sets Wisconsinites apart. 

    With hard work has come many rewards, and I’m not talking about money. We’ve enjoyed a lifetime of adventures!

    For 32 years, we kept our own honeybees for pollination. I loved being a beekeeper, with all the necessary equipment, producing honey, wax, package bees and more. Then the black bears found us, liked our products and put us out of the honey business.  

    Now that stung! But it was fun for a time.

    We learned about grafting trees, which was greatly gratifying. No apple will grow true from its own seed. For example, from six McIntosh seeds, you’ll sometimes get six different kinds of apples—none of them McIntosh and likely none worth reproducing.  

    Thus the need for grafting. It sounds complex, but no magic skills are required. My favorite success story with grafting has nothing to do with apples. Onto our single pear tree, Elaine had me graft six different varieties of apples, and every one “took”. That tree looks funny in the fall with yellow, green, brown and red fruit—all of it delicious. 

They Love Langlade County

    We’ve had interesting neighbors over the years, including a family of skunks in a rock pile…spotted fawns leaping from tall grass…monarch butterflies cocooned on milkweed…and wild turkeys hatching before our eyes.   

    Those poults shook themselves dry in seconds and took a few wobbly steps. I made a hasty retreat before the birds imprinted on me…I’d look silly walking down the street with a dozen small turkeys following in line.

    Each spring, we’d watch for the first bloodroots, then the yellow adder’s-tongues and the elusive jacks-in-the-pulpit. Those delicate wildflowers were always welcome sights.

    One memory Elaine treasures is the thousands of schoolchildren who visited on field trips across the years. They’d follow her like the Pied Piper through the trees and rocks and twisting trails up to the lookout at the summit, where they enjoyed the “Grand View”.

    Yes, Elaine and I wish we could remain here forever, but over 40 years of work have gotten to be a little much for these old bones.

    Recently, and happily, we were fortunate to meet Lisa Rettinger. An agronomist with youth and vigor on her side, Lisa purchased the orchard and will carry it on. This has been our greatest wish!

    We continue to live in our home and look forward to watching the orchard flourish. Yes, we’ve been fortunate to live here in the hills and work with this fabled fruit for so long.  

The apple is celebrated worldwide in legend and lore, myths and parables, poetry and fairy tales. With apologies to my vegetable-farming friends nearby, nobody waxes poetic about kohlrabi!