FAIRMONT – September marks the start of apple season in Minnesota. Although this year has been dry, intermittent rains have contributed to a healthy harvest, according to Alden Zeitz, co-owner of Timberlake Orchard.
Zeitz and two other co-owners operate Timberlake Orchard south of Fairmont. The three run the orchard alongside their full-time jobs. In addition to their apples, they also sell cider and fresh baked goods, including pies and cider donuts.
Zeitz said the first ripe varieties are the Zestar, SweeTango and Ginger Gold apples that are currently being picked.
Zestars are popular apples to eat raw and are among the riper apples on store shelves due to their early availability in late August and September. Zestars also have a long shelf life and can remain fresh for up to eight weeks after harvest.
“The name says what it is, it has a savory flavor; a little sweet, a little tart” said Zeitz.
Also known as Minneiska, SweeTango was developed from the combination of Zestar and Honeycrisp apples. The resulting product combines the eponymous crispiness of the Honeycrisp with the early availability of the Zestar.
“The most important thing about SweeTango is that it is a very crunchy apple. You can bite into it and it has this snapshot.” said Zeitz.
Despite their visual resemblance to the sour Granny Smith variety, the yellow-green Ginger Golds have a sweeter taste.
“If you let them hang on the tree a little longer they get a really dark yellow, but then they’re too far away and they get floury. We’re picking them right because they’re just starting to turn yellow, that’s about the perfect time.” said Zeitz.
As the end of September approaches, the harvest for mid-season apples begins.
This includes the popular variety Honeycrisp, which Zeitz plans to start harvesting in the near future.
“They’re actually ready to be picked, we just haven’t got around to it because we’re still picking SweeTangos and many other apples.” said Zeitz.
Other mid-season apples include the traditional Wealthy, McIntosh, Cortland and Haralson apples
Sorts. These apples are among the older varieties developed for the colder climates of Canada and the northern United States. Although quite tart when eaten raw, they remain a popular baking ingredient.
“Some people just have their apples that they like. McIntosh and Cortlands are for them.” said Zeitz.
Zeitz said the most popular variety they had on the orchard was the B51, also known as SugarBee. This late apple begins to ripen in mid-October. It was derived from an open-pollinated Honeycrisp and is only grown in a few orchards across the state.
“It has an excellent texture, very comparable to the SweeTango, but it has a very pleasant taste that goes a little beyond what a SweeTango is. It’s not a sweet apple by any means, but it’s on the sweeter side.” said Zeitz.
The last three varieties grown on the orchard are the SnowSweet, Honeygold and 1505 apples.
As the name suggests, SnowSweets are sweeter apples that are good for eating raw but not for baking. Honeygolds are another sweeter variety, but they can also be used in cooking. The 1505s are mainly grown to be made into cider.
The orchard plans to introduce new varieties in the coming years, but doesn’t expect the trees to have matured enough to be reliably harvested for at least two years.
Timberlake Orchard is open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Visit timberlakeorchard.com for more information.