A ripening knowledge

Pineapple Hill Orchard owner Greg Becker tells Joe Schulz how he switched to smaller apple trees a few years ago. Katherine Swapp photo

by Joe Schulz

In late July, Greg Becker gave me a tour of Pineapple Hill Orchard, before it opens for the season Labor Day weekend.

My girlfriend Katherine (Kat) Swapp accompanied me to the small family apple orchard located in the scenic Green Lake countryside.

As I pulled my 2001 Oldsmobile into the orchard’s driveway, the colorful flowers caught my eye. The property didn’t feel real to me; it felt like a colorful wonderland.

I parked the car and the next thing that caught my eye was a man in a white hat and blue shirt waving at me as he walked out of his shed.

I introduced myself to Greg and he explained to me that he and his wife, Barb, purchased the property in 1979.

Becker gave us a tour of the grounds as he explained that because spring came late this year, the orchard’s opening will be a bit delayed.

“We’ve been catching up, but they still have a little bit to go,” he said.

He plants apples in a way that ensures they won’t all ripen at once. Different trees will ripen at staggered points throughout the season.

The apples the orchard carries when open are: Paula Red, Zester, Gala, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Cortland, Snow Apple, Spartan, Empire, Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious.

As we walked down the aisles of apple trees, Greg described replacing his large trees with thinner, more manageable trees in 2013.

“The trees were just too big, physically, for me to take care of; very difficult to prune because you’ve got to be up on a ladder,” he said as we walked his property.

He noted the trees are designed to be grown much closer together than were the apple trees he first planted.

Greg uses twine to keep the branches below horizontal.

“What that allows, most importantly, the sunlight that penetrates into the center of the tree,” he said. “That’s why they get nice and big and red because they’re getting lots of sunlight.”

Greg finds rewards from the labor and love put into growing the apple trees, rather than the money he makes from their sale.

“The value is in the labor and I mean, you don’t make a lot on it. But being retired now, it’s something to do and it’s a challenge,” Greg said.

After he gave us the tour of the orchard, Greg let Kat and I explore. We walked through rows upon rows of apples.

As we walked through the rows of trees, I couldn’t help myself, I plucked a tiny fruit off a tree and took a bite.

GREEN LAKER REPORTER Joe Schultz picks an apple from a tree at Pineapple Hill Orchard and then proceeds to take a bite of it. Katherine Swapp photos

It was delicious, even though it was about half the size of a ripe apple.

We continued to walk the property and chat, stopping to admire the flowers, when a butterfly caught Kat’s eye.

The bug had landed on one of the colorful plants, and Kat acted almost instantaneously to snap a picture of the critter before it flew away.

After stopping to take a picture of the bug, we sat in a swing and enjoyed the weather.

Before we left, I wanted to thank Greg for giving me a sneak peak of his orchard before he opened for the season.

When I went to thank him, he told me the story of his son, Aaron Becker. Aaron had at one point in time been in my shoes.

Greg explained that Aaron had been the Green Laker reporter when he was in college, and that after college Aaron worked in radio before getting a job at The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

Greg made me feel welcome and he expressed an appreciation for our interest in his orchard.

He was a gracious host and it was a pleasure to tour his property.

I’m definitely going to have to stop back a bit later this year to buy some apples.