Barely summer, getting ready for fall

Knaebe’s adds apple varieties, new ciders for upcoming season

MOLTKE TOWNSHIP –The apple trees are blossoming at Knaebe’s Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm, a crisp reminder of the fruits to come for the fall season.

Knaebe’s owners Andy and Dana Hefele will spend the next two months, along with a limited number of staff, tending to the apple trees that draw thousands of people to the farm each fall. The husband-and-wife duo took over operations of the farm in 2015.

The Hefeles have already begun routine maintenance of the orchard, which has an estimated 5,000 trees. Andy pruned the trees earlier this year and added 500 new trees to the orchard. He will to continue to care for them as the apples grow throughout the summer.

The Hefeles add trees each year, planting new varieties as older trees die. They also planted a variety to be used specifically for making hard cider.

This spring, they decided to plant a new variety called pixie crunch, which is said to be sweeter than a honeycrisp and has a crunchy texture. Dana says it typically takes four to five years for a tree to begin producing apples.

Because of the colder, wetter spring this year, Dana said the season is off to a slow start.

“Some of the blossoms are quite late this year — a week to 10 days, for sure,” she said. “We don’t know yet if that’s going to impact the ripening times of the apples, but it could. Mother nature is in charge of these things. We just are here to kind of help the process along.”

All of the apples grown at the farm are used in baked goods, cider, and hard apple cider. The popularity of the farm’s ciders recently caused the Hefeles to get a new apple cider press.

Dana says the new press is capable of extracting 1,000 gallons of cider in six hours, cutting in half the number of staff needed to run the press.

“Now, with the hard cider operation, all of our cider is fermented, carbonated, kegged and ready to go because (Andy is) able to work on it in the winter” thanks to a new barn, she said. That way, they’re ready when the cidery opens in the summer.

The cidery will expand the varieties available on tap this summer, averaging between 10 and 12 varieties. Dana said they’ll introduce a blueberry cider, but her favorite is a cider with hints of vanilla and cinnamon.

Dana said that, once again, patrons will be able to visit the farm for hard cider and wood-fired pizza from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays in July and August.

“It’s definitely created a fun component to the business and kind of changed the demographic a little bit,” she said of their decision to incorporate cider on the farm. “Now, I feel like it’s becoming a destination for younger folks who want to come out, spend the afternoon, get a wood fire-pizza, and put their feet up on a farm.”

This year, the Hefeles would like to incorporate a you-pick option into the business. Dana said they haven’t offered a you-pick option in the past because their trees are dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties, which means their branches are a little more fragile.

She said customers ask if they can pick the apples all the time. She said the you-pick option is a fun experience and the memories can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

“Andy and I feel really strongly that that’s something — that’s territory we want to get into, hopefully this year,” she said.

The Hefeles are also planning to level off and expand their parking lot this summer. They have removed a few trees from each row near the entrance of the business, where they will add angled parking, as well as more handicap-accessible parking spots.

In addition to the work being done to the orchard, Dana is in the process of cleaning, ordering, and arranging the merchandise inside the store in preparation for the upcoming season.

She said that, when the business opens in the fall, it’s only open for around 40 days. The business employs about 60 people during that time.

“I think we’re always going to be finding ways to make things better and more efficient,” she said. “That’s just kind of what we do. That’s the long-term goal.”

The apple farm opens for the fall season on Aug. 29 at 2621 Karsten Road in Moltke Township, southwest of Rogers City. For more information, visit mmmunchykrunchyapplefarm.com.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.