HOLMEN — Its owners say the weather has cooperated this year at the pick-your-own Shefelbine Orchard and Pumpkin Patch, which opened for the season on Friday along County Highway S, a half-mile south of County Highway M, between Holmen and West Salem.
The apple orchard and pumpkin patch owned by Doug and Gale Shefelbine — whose family has been in the apple business for 67 years — opened for the season Friday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, until the season ends Oct. 14.
“We have about 15 acres of pick-your-own apples plus about five acres of (pick-your-own) pumpkins,” Doug said as he and Gale gave a reporter a tour of the orchard high atop a hill, not far from the farm buildings where they used to have a larger apple operation that included a retail shop.
“The apples look beautiful; the weather has been pretty good and we’ve had adequate moisture,” Doug said. The pumpkins also are looking good, he said.
It’s the most exciting time of the year at the orchard for the Shefelbines and the family members and friends who help them.
About 10 people at a time work there when it’s open, including son Dale Shefelbine and grandson-in-law Tony Haug, who drive the two tractors that pull wagons with passengers through the orchard.
Doug, who is 79, and Gale, who is 76, said their family’s apple business began in 1951 when Doug’s parents, Eldred and Helen Shefelbine, bought a farm that had an acre of experimental apple trees on it. They sold a small number of apples that first year, Doug said.
Doug and Gale bought the farm in 1970 and expanded to about 120 acres of apple trees by 1980.
“We found out we couldn’t find enough help to pick the apples,” Gale recalled, so they began scaling back apple production. They closed the retail store next to their farm house after the 2008 season, saying at the time that they were getting older. By then, they had about 26 acres of apple trees, six of which were for pick-your-own customers. The rest of the apples were sold to other apple growers and an apple packer who sold to chain stores.
This year, Doug thinks the orchard will be an entirely pick-your-own operation.
Although they’ve scaled back the size of their apple tree acreage over the years, Doug continues to develop new apple varieties. One, the Pazazz apple, is available in a number of stores around the United States. Another, the RiverBelle apple, is available in some stores in the Midwest. Doug sold the rights to both apple varieties to Westcott Orchards in Elgin, Minn.
Doug develops new apple tree varieties in an experimental area in his orchard. “I’m working on four to five more varieties” that should come out in the next few years, he said. He plans to sell the rights to them.
“Ninety-nine percent of our apples (in the Shefelbine orchard) are Honeycrisp,” said Doug, who has been growing Honeycrisp apple trees since the early 1990s. He was one of the first growers to do so.
“Now everybody in Washington state has jumped in to grow Honeycrisp as well” because of their outstanding taste, Doug said. “They started doing that about 10 years ago. Honeycrisp apples are now sold all over the world.”
Also available at the Shefelbine’s pick-your-own orchard are some Pazaaz, RiverBelle, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Wolf River apples.
On a nice Saturday or Sunday, 200 to 300 people will be picking apples at the orchard, Doug said.
“But that varies, depending on the weather,” Gale said. And if a Green Bay Packers football game is on TV, she said, fewer people will be picking apples at the orchard until after the game ends.
“It’s mostly families” who drive to the orchard to pick apples and pumpkins, Gale said. “Even grandpas and grandmas come out here” with their families.
Most customers are from the greater La Crosse area. “But we also get people from places like Chicago and Minneapolis,” Gale said.