Milton area residents who enjoy making the annual trek to an apple orchard each fall won’t need to travel far this year.
Todd and Darcie Haakinson of Milton opened Hawk’s Orchard on Searns Road to the public Labor Day weekend. It’s the first time the orchard has been open to customers since the family began pursuing a dream in 2009.
The orchard currently features 12 varieties of apple trees – 11 varieties will be available this fall – that come courtesy of 2,000 dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees on three acres of land. The Haakinsons own another seven acres to expand the orchard in the future, but right now, they’re focused on getting the business off to a good start.
“People are excited to have an orchard back in Milton,” Todd Haakinson said, noting there used to be three or four orchards in the area. “There’s a long history in Milton.”
After purchasing the property, the Haakinsons began planting trees in 2010, adding a couple of hundred trees each year. Darcie said it takes three to five years to establish an orchard and get a good crop. In between planting trees, they worked on the building where they wash and sell the apples.
“We’re hoping to eventually do a kitchen and have some treats,” Darcie said.
Todd described the orchard as a “work in progress,” stating the family hopes to add pumpkins and kid-friendly activities over time. The Haakinsons are also taking suggestions for different apple varieties customers would like to see in the future.
HOW IT BEGAN
Todd said the idea to establish his own apple orchard was rooted in memories from working at the Apple Hut in Beloit as a kid. He was inspired by his former bosses, Apple Hut owners Connie the late Fritz Brockhus.
“I worked there and I just always enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where one morning we decided we should try it on our own.”
Since work on his own orchard began, Todd said the Brockhus family and other apple orchardists have been very supportive, offering advice and lending a hand.
The Haakinsons took a class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to learn how to become orchardists and they attended many seminars and field days through the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association to get a feel for the industry.
Tracy said unlike many older apple orchards, they are using smaller trees that are easier to maintain. Many traditional orchards that fizzle out have larger trees that are more labor-intensive, which can be unappealing for the second generation of an orchardist family.
The Haakinsons said establishing the orchard has not been without its hardships. Last year, many Wisconsin apple growers were hit hard by frost after unseasonably warm spring prompted trees to begin budding early. Then, they were hit again with last summer’s drought.
Hawk’s Orchard was not ready to open last year, so the apples they had that were ripe for picking were sold to other orchards, some of which had lost their entire crop.
“It’s farming, I guess,” Todd said, adding the orchard also saw hail in June. “It’s a big learning process. You learn every day.”
The Haakinsons both work other jobs, so the orchard is really a labor of love. Hawks’ Orchard will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until it runs out of apples for the season.
Currently, the orchard is set up for pre-picked sales only because the trees are still fragile, but Tracy said the family would like to offer pick-your-own varieties some day in the future.
Hawk’s Orchard will also offer its own cider that will be processed at an orchard in Elkhorn.
“In order to get into that cider business, it’s a lot of money and regulations,” Todd said. “We’ve got other things going on.”
The Haakinsons said they have been enjoying meeting many new people and are looking forward to what lies ahead for their orchard.
“We hope to make it a little more interesting each year and add something on,” Darcie said. “We just want it to be a cute, quaint, cozy little place for people to come and look forward to coming to each fall.”