PRESTON — As another apple season in Minnesota gets rolling, a young couple in Preston finds its orchard to be on the right track.
According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the state’s favorite apples will ripen throughout the month of September. That means apples fresh off the trees are available now at orchards, farmers markets and grocery stores across the state.
Blossom Hill Orchard and Farm in Preston is owned and operated by Dane and Hillary Diede. The husband and wife took over the former Preston Apple and Berry Farm in 2014, and quickly converted it to organic.
The Diedes grows about 30 varieties of apples every year, as well as selling seasonal produce, baked goods and locally made art at the orchard and at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market.
Attitude for apples
Apples are their main focus at Blossom Hill, said Hillary Diede.
"We're open seven days a week only for apple season," she said "It's two months of craziness and every day is kind of a Saturday, but it goes by so fast."
In their fifth apple season at the orchard, the couple is finally finding their fall groove, Diede said.
"This is the first year that we kind of have a grasp on what we're doing," she said. “We're able to sit back and enjoy it a little bit more."
Apples from First Kiss to Zestar! are abundant at Blossom Hill from September through October, and customers can buy them by the bag. Pumpkins can be picked from its large patch opening in October.
For apple eaters, Honeycrisp is a forever favorite, and Haralson is a preferred variety to eat and bake. For sauces, Wealthy, Cortland and McIntosh are good choices.
Find your apple fix
Apple season is the hottest time for bakery items at Blossom Hill, all of which are made by Hillary. Apple turnovers are the most sought-after item in the fall, with apple kolaches, caramel apples and pies not far behind.
"We make it all here," she said.
Diede said she relies on what she calls her "mom group, women who work during the apple season peeling apples and making pies. She also relies on the help from an original employee from the Preston Apple and Berry Farm.
A healthy crop
Dane Diede said a summer of heavy rain made for a pretty good lead-up to this year’s apple season, and the harvest so far has been solid. But days of sunshine will be needed to keep this year’s crop healthy, he said.
“Whenever it gets cloudy and rainy, the apples stop ripening,” he said. “We really want those sunny, warm days.”
Apples trees only cover around 5-acres of the 16-acres at Blossom Hill Orchard and Farm, said Dane Diede. They currently have around 800 apple trees.
He said he's done the math, and in an average year they'll pick about 128,000 apples at the Preston orchard.
Pigs were added to the Blossom Hill operation last year and play an important role in helping out after harvest. The hogs clean up any dropped fruit after apple season concludes.
Diede said after growing apples for four seasons he knows more of what to expect from a harvest. He’s gotten a lot of help from other area orchards, as well.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit community of apple growers in the area, because it’s not like there’s a ton of us,” said Diede.
Blossom Hill recently partnered with a 35-acre orchard in Lake City, that has around 28,000 trees. Those trees are smaller than the trees at the orchard in Preston, which is good for ripening apples, said Diede.
“On smaller trees, more light can penetrate the apples,” he said. “So more apples ripen up, and ripen up more evenly.”
Apples are about a week behind schedule this year, he said. First Kiss apples, which normally ripen by Aug. 21, were picked on Aug. 28.
“Tart, sweet, lotta character, very crunch and very juicy,” said Diede describing the First Kiss variety. “Just a really nice apple.”
This year’s Minnesota Grown Directory includes 118 apple orchards. To find an orchard near you, visit minnesotagrown.com/search-directory/.