The story of how Brian and Judy Christensen came to have three acres full of apple trees is quite simple.
“Before that, I tried vegetable farming. We raised some beef before the trees went in. I thought it’d be easier to pick apples than to crawl around in the dirt,” Brian says as he grins.
Today, their business – Christensen’s Orchard – has about 500 apple trees.
Picking all those apples is hard work, but Brian and Judy wouldn’t have it any other way.
This time of year, students arrive for field trips, with Judy serving as their tour guide through the orchard, where they learn about apples and get to pick one themselves.
They watch their apples get washed and polished. Judy makes fresh apple cider for them.
And, on weekends, it is not unusual to see out-of-state license plates in their parking lot.
“People like coming out in the country,” Brian said. “Business peaks when the fall color lookers go looking around.”
Located at N4513 E. Ware Road, approximately 3 1/2 miles north of Waupaca off of State Highway 49, Christensen’s Orchard is open daily this time of year, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
During the season, Brian and Judy’s work days begin early and end late.
“During the season, we’re usually up at 4 a.m.,” Brian said. “She comes out and bakes. And, customers are always here early.”
Judy tries to bake apple pies daily for their bakery.
“I do pies homemade from scratch, including the crust,” she said.
Those who visit their retail shop and bakery will also find fresh picked apples, natural apple cider, caramel apples, jams and honey.
“Our cider is always a mixture,” Brian said. “We like to use sweet and tart together.”
They typically make 1,000 gallons of cider a year.
“Everyone always assumes we add sugar to our cider. Nothing goes in there but fresh, clean apples,” he said. “We can’t even keep cider on the shelves.”
They also sell a lot of caramel apples. “Last year, we roughly made 2,000 caramel apples,” Brian said.
It was 1992 when the Christensens planted their first apple trees.
They planted about 30 that year, slowly building their business from there. The last major planting was in 2000.
When they started the orchard, both had full-time jobs. Judy continues to work full time at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, using much of her vacation time to work with him at the orchard during the peak of the apple season.
They sell 11 varieties of apples: Empire, Gala, Cortland, McIntosh, Macoun, Honey Crisp, Wolf River, Honey Gold, Sun Crisp, Connell Red and Sweet 16.
The Honey Crisp is popular with their customers. “It’s like a sweet-tart,” Brian said.
Three area school districts – Waupaca, Weyauwega-Fremont and Amherst – buy apples froom Christensen’s Orchard. In the Waupaca School District, the apples go to the high school.
Brian said the schools have been buying apples from them for about three years. The school districts approached the Christensens before the federal initiative to get more local foods in school cafeterias began.
“They save money by buying our apples,” Judy said.
And, Brian said the students love the fresh apples.
Most of the trees at Christensen’s Orchard are semi-dwarf trees, with the majority of them 15 feet tall.
“I do all the pruning myself, unfortunately,” Brian said. “It a hard job to prune 500 trees. Usually, the end of February I start pruning and end in April.”
In mid-April, he begins the spraying program, which runs through the summer.
“I don’t want to be using chemicals, but to make them look nice, you don’t have a choice,” he said.
When it comes to ripening, the apples prefer warm sunny days with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, followed by cool evenings.
“We pick for appropriate color and ripeness,” Brian said.
After their apples are picked, they are washed and polished.
Not an apple goes to waste.
Those that fall on the ground are sold for deer apples and windfalls – appropriately named because they fall from the wind. Brian says many like to use those apples to make applesauce.
They are always conscious of the weather. Too much rain means they cannot keep up with spraying their apples. It can also cause apple scab.
Their season typically begins in mid-September and runs through mid-November.
Their operation is a small one. Several part-time employees are hired.
“It’s hard work. It’s very stressful,” he said. “What I like about it are the people coming through, the kids.”
And, what is Brian’s favorite apple?
“I like them all,” he says. “They’re all uniquely different. That’s what makes the world go round. Some like tart, and the next person wants a sweet one. I enjoy them all.”