Orchards opening, ready for public to return

Grace Christie picked apples at Bushel & A Peck Orchard.

CHIPPEWA FALLS — With 40 acres of apples featuring 32 different varieties, Wayne Geist is eager for crowds to show up at his orchard this fall.

Geist, owner of Bushel & A Peck Orchard in the town of Lafayette, said he opened in late August, and he plans to be open daily through early November.

“We have some pick-your-own apples ready, and raspberries,” Geist said. “And there is plenty of social distancing.”

In past years, visitors to the orchard had to walk through the indoor store on their way to the apple fields. That has changed.

“This year, we have cut in a ‘COVID gate.’ We have a cash register outside and the whole works,” Geist said.

Geist is still hopeful that people enter the store to purchase other orchard items, including pumpkins and syrup.

As usual, honey crisp apples are his largest seller, and about 75% of his apples are that variety. Other top varieties ready for purchase include pristine and zestar apples.

Jerry Clark, Chippewa County UW-Extension agricultural agent, said that specific varieties appear to be in abundance this year.

“Overall, the crop looks good,” Clark said.

The fruit industry, from the orchards to berry fields, are often overlooked but are important to the Chippewa County agriculture economy, he said.

“It’s a multi-million dollar industry,” Clark said. “It’s not as big as grain or dairy, but Chippewa County has a long history of multi-generational orchards. It’s always a tradition to visit these orchards in September.”

In recent years, late spring frosts or hail storms have caused significant damage to the local apple crop, but Geist said that hasn’t been a problem this year.

“It’s been very minimal (loss) this year. No gale-force winds to knock things over,” Geist said.

Rain has been sparse in August, but Geist said that more than half of his orchard is irrigated.

Like many other orchards, Bushel & A Peck has a corn maze, wagon rides and animals such as pheasants, chickens and goats.

“We’re unfortunately a secret,” Geist said. “I’ll be really excited when the crowds come back.”

Bushel & A Peck Orchard is located at 18444 Highway OO in town of Lafayette.