After 45 years, founders Lowell and Phillis Schaper passed down the legacy they built at Minnetonka Orchard to new owners Ester and Frank Weigel. “They have visions of keeping all the traditions and history alive at the orchard but also bringing new life to it,” says manager Crystal Madsen.
Changes have been wide-ranging, from new food options to events and activities.
Food: Snack Shacks
Madsen notes that the orchard is adding three new food huts to its lower level, which will offer an expanded menu that includes snacks from nachos and pretzels with cheese to popcorn and sweets. “Our caramel apple stand will be moving down there, and we’ll also have another grill stand down there too to help alleviate some of the grill lines from our upper level,” Madsen says.
Activities: All Aboard!
A new pint-sized train ride will be running for the orchard’s half-pint guests. The orchard also expanded its animal barn into a petting zoo, welcoming chicks, mini goats, rabbits and pigs to its stables. Classic orchard staples like hayrides, haystack climbing and scavenger hunts will continue alongside the new attractions, but Madsen notes that’s not the only change for 2022.
This year, all orchard attractions will be included in the price of admission. “We heard you,” Madsen says. “We heard everybody, and we truly take those comments to heart. We’re trying to improve and make this the best possible experience and adventure for families.” Some activities will be unlimited, while others require tickets given during admission.
Drinks: Locally-Made Libations
Along with the new half-pint activities, full pints will also make an appearance at the orchard this season for 21+ guests. Since taking over Minnetonka Orchard, the Weigels have been working to bring two other ventures to life: Easton Hard Cider and Everly Farms Winery.
“The wine and hard cider that we have produced at Everly Farms Winery is ready,” Madsen says. “We have a winemaker, Sean Reeves, and he’s been hard at work. We just bottled our wine and canned some cider this week.” Madsen says the locally-made wine and hard cider will be available at two different wine huts on the orchard. Later this season, Minnetonka Orchard will open its tasting room.
Events: Back by Popular Demand
Christmas at the Farm is making a comeback this year, Madsen says. “We offer activities, such as holiday hayrides down to Santa’s barn with time with Santa and photos,” she says. “And we do sell live Christmas trees and have different classes and stations available, such as reindeer food and gingerbread house making.” Along with the holiday-centric events, Minnetonka Orchard also has seasonal wreath-making charcuterie and wine and cheese pairing classes.
Apple Picking: You Pick
Minnetonka Orchard has 10 different varieties of apple trees, which were planted in stages. “The whole orchard isn’t ready to pick at once,” Madsen says. This year, to alleviate some of the confusion, the orchard has added QR codes to the row signs. “People can scan that row and get a little bit of knowledge of what kind of apple this is, what it’s best used for–whether eating or baking. [We also] offer a couple different recipes,” Madsen says.
Apple Picking 101
It might seem straight forward, but we asked Crystal Madsen some of the basic apple picking questions, so you don’t have to.
When is apple picking season?
“There’s no real technical date. It’s all up to Mother Nature. We had a very cool spring this year, so we’re about a couple weeks behind a standard year. We anticipate our You Pick to be available at the end of August this year. We’ll be able to reevaluate in another week or two, but as of now, we’re planning for the end of August.”
Crystal notes that Minnetonka Orchard keeps its social media updated with which varieties of apples are being picked to give visitors a heads-up.
When are apples ready to pick?
“Apples, it’s kind of a preference on taste just like any other fruit or vegetable. When we give the go-ahead to pick [a certain row of] apples, they are for the most part ripe and ready to be picked. A nice, bright red, semi-firm apple is great to be picked, but also some people might like them at various stages of ripeness.”
How do you pick apples?
“The key to picking apples is to be very gentle. They’re very sensitive to the picking around them, so when you pick one, it’s not uncommon for three or four to fall. We just suggest that you pick very lightly and gently rather than yank. Do somewhat of a twist, back towards the branch.”
Can you pick apples if they’re already on the ground?
“You’re not going to want to pick anything that’s been on the ground rotting, obviously. But a lot of the time when we get those large numbers of people coming in picking, it’s very common for surrounding apples to fall at the same time. It’s perfectly alright to pick those up and use those as well.”
When does apple picking season end?
“It does depend 100 percent on Mother Nature; what kind of crop she’s given us for the year and also the length of the crop. Last year, we dealt with a very early end season–and not just at our orchard but all orchards in the area–because of the drought we experienced last season. Things are looking really good this year, and we’re a little behind schedule because of the cooler spring, so I would anticipate it going into October. But a lot of it also depends on the crowds and people that we have coming through.”
What should people wear when apple picking?
“I love that question. As far as clothing-wise, it’s all about comfort. But one suggestion that I have that I think would benefit a lot of people is to skip any scented perfumes or lotions that day. As with any orchard, [there are] bees. They’re just a natural part of the orchard. However, they are a little more attracted to scents like that, so we tell our employees, as well as our guests, to try to avoid any scented lotions or perfumes for that day. That will help a lot.”
Minnetonka Orchard will be open for the 2022 season on September 3.