Antigo apple orchard thriving under organic management
September 27, 2022
It’s more than 100 years in the making, so Lisa Rettinger knew changes wouldn’t come easy. And she was right.
Seven years ago, she purchased Grandview Orchard east of Antigo, with a decision to manage the apple orchard in an organic fashion.
“We don’t use any synthetic chemicals, which was really hard,” she said. “I had a terrible first couple of years. It was really rough. There was a lot of reading, consulting.”
Grandview Orchard features 20 varieties of apples. There are more than 7,500 varieties worldwide.
“I am not certified organic and probably won’t,” she said. “I don’t wholesale apples.”
Her apples are sold from the farm and at farmers markets.
The varieties of apples that are grown in Wisconsin are limited due to the cold weather and short growing season.
The Gabriel family owned the orchard from 1958 until they sold it to Rettinger, an Antigo native, in 2015.
“I have always been interested in agriculture, gardening,” Rettinger said. “I do have a degree in agronomy, but to do this, you kind of have to forget everything you learned.”
For eight years prior to owning the orchard, she worked in St. Paul, Minn., in the regulation of chemicals, including agricultural chemicals.
“I just decided I was really, really interested, and I had enough people tell me you cannot grow apples organically,” she said of her decision to buy the orchard. “It has been extremely difficult, but with a background in gardening and agriculture and wanting to do things a little differently, I feel that this should be the mainstream.”
Grandview Orchard consists of about 20 fenced acres.
The orchard features its own store for apple purchases and a few other items as well. Visitors can also pick their own apples at select times. Visit www.grandvieworchard.com for details.
Horse-drawn wagon rides by Brandt’s Sleigh and Wagon Rides were offered the past two Saturdays.
“Apple trees’ life expectancy is between 50 and 80 years,” said Shalynn Domke, who was driving the horse wagon and narrating as they went along. “When the Gabriels owned it, a lot of the trees were at their max, so she is culling, or cutting out the trees.”
Rettinger’s goal is to remove 50 trees this year. The older trees are at their peak and not producing as much as the young trees.
Culling is done in the winter to prevent the spread of disease and not hurt the surrounding trees.
Also, more than 2,500 new trees will be planted this year to build the nursery stock.
Before Rettinger’s ownership, trees were not planted by variety; they were often mixed together. New plantings will be more orderly.
“She is trying to get the orchard back into rows of select varieties,” Domke said. “It makes it easy for picking when she’s picking with helpers but also for you-pick.”
She is also planting more semi-dwarf trees to make it easier for those who pick their own.
There are three pigs that are let loose in select locations to eat up fallen apples and cider pulp.
“They eat for the pest and disease control to take a little bit of a bite out of the life cycle (windfall apples),” she said.
Fresh cider is pressed each week.
Rettinger said future plans include razing some buildings on the property and constructing a shelter for weekend events, food service, etc. And a pumpkin patch is coming soon.
“This year, she has pumpkins but not enough to do a you-pick-pumpkin yet, but that is the goal,” Domke said.
Of all the apples grown at the orchard, Wealthy is the most unique, Rettinger said.
It’s an early season apple, the first variety grown in Minnesota back in the 1800s.
“That Wealthy apple has way more flavor than anything you’d get in the store, but if you look at it wrong, it bruises,” Rettinger said. “It stores for about a month, so they’re a terrible commercial variety. Nobody’s going to grow it commercially, so you have to go to these small orchards to find those apples.”
But her favorite is the Regent, a late season apple.
“It is a bizarre cross between a Macintosh and a Red Delicious,”Rettinger said. “It’s a really nice, snappy, sweet tart apple, crispy. It’s a nice big apple, very popular once people get to know it for pie, sauce and fresh eating.”
Managing the orchard may not always be easy for Rettinger, but the fruits of her labor are worth it.
Check out Grandview Orchard & Nursery Stock's website by clicking here.