RIVERDALE — Keith and Bev Nuttelman often eat five to six apples a day.
Bev finds numerous ways to use apples, from making apple sauce to baking apple pie bars, apple cakes or apple cookies. Apples are plentiful at the Nuttelman home thanks to their business, Apple Acres Orchard. Just under 400 trees with nine different kinds of apples line their acreage southwest of Riverdale.
The couple purchased the farm from Merlin Burgland in 1984 when the farm had more than 1,200 trees in the orchard. With a fencing business and a small herd of cattle, the Nuttelmans prefer the smaller orchard.
“We’ve always filled in with the apples, and they treat us pretty well on some years. Some years are not good,” Bev said.
“That’s why we try to keep it on the hobby level maybe,” Keith added.
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Keith admits that during spring pruning and fall harvest, the orchard often is more than a hobby. There isn’t often “normal” years when it comes to apples, Keith said with a laugh. If there is a bountiful crop one year, the trees may produce no apples the next year, he explained. The trees’ blossoms produce fruit in the current year, and apple spurs are the sign if there will be fruit the next year. A typical harvest is around 900-1,200 bushels. The 2018 crop produced 1,300-1,400 bushels.
With a bountiful harvest in 2018, the Nuttelmans weren’t sure the trees would produce fruit this year, yet bright red pops of fruit are clearly visible on trees in the orchard. Although he doesn’t like guessing what the orchard will produce this year, Keith expects they won’t pick more than 500 bushels this year.
The Nuttelmans grow gala, fuji, Jonathan, Jonagold, honeycrisp, red and golden delicious, empire and York. Galas and Jonathans are typically the first apples harvested. The Nuttelmans will be able to start bringing fruit to Kearney Area’s Farmer’s Market this week.
Fujis have the longest growing season and are often the last apples picked.
“We don’t often get all the Fujis. It’s just too cold,” Keith said.
While sunny days and cool nights bring out the color and help the apples to ripen, the intense heat in July and part of August caused the fruit to start dropping early.
“Honeycrisp is our most profitable apple far and away. Last year it did wonderfully. It’s a producer as well, but it doesn’t like being hot. So right now we have apples falling every day, and they aren’t ready. It’s just a loose connection because of the heat,” Keith explained.
Bev had recently gone through the orchard cleaning up the fallen apples, but she points out apples that have continued to fall to the ground. However, she recites a phrase that Keith often says to her, “Always look up, don’t look down.”
As Keith and Bev walk through the orchard, Keith points out the apples that are ready to be picked and which ones are plentiful this year. Red Delicious are typically the hardiest and produce a plentiful amount of fruit. They often sell red delicious apples to schools in the area, and the kids notice the difference in the taste, Bev said.
“The schools do like them, and the kids like them. They can tell the good flavor,” she said.
Schools often will bring students out for tours at the orchard, and now former students who took tours are bringing their children to the orchard.
“You get kids that walk in and say, ‘I remember coming in preschool,’” Keith said. “They say, ‘You gave this tour.’ And they bring their kids.’”
Harvest will be in full-swing this week, and seasonal workers come to help pick apples at the orchard. Each apple is handpicked, and customers don’t pick their own apples. The couple want to ensure the spurs on the trees aren’t damaged and to avoid waste.
“You have to be careful. It’s not quantity. It’s quality,” Keith said.
“You can tell fingerprints even when you pull them off the tree. When you go to sort, give it a day, those bruises are going to show up,” Bev added.
Customers can purchase Apple Acres fruit at the farm, at the Kearney Area Farmer’s Market and the Hastings Farmers Market. They sell for $1-$2 a pound.
The Nuttelmans invite anyone who hasn’t already visited the orchard in the fall to come to see what they have to offer.
“It’s kind of a little excursion you can do. Something to do in the fall,” Bev said. “It’s fun to have people come out and walk through. We invite that.”