One of many apple trees at Luce Line Orchards, ready for harvest. 

by megan glenn

We’re fast approaching autumn, and that means three things: school, pumpkin spice everything, and apples. Orchards around the state have been preparing for the next two months of harvest season, so it’s time to get out and enjoy the best they have to offer.

“I think all the orchards have something to offer,” said Terri Traen-Pawelk, owner of LuceLine Orchards north of Watertown. “Ours is our farm.”

LuceLine has been voted the number one orchard in the state by KSTP, and it’s already got a lot to offer. There are of course fresh apples picked daily, but there are also animals to interact with, pumpkins to choose for pie or carving, hay mountains for climbing, and trails to walk and relax on. The orchard also has a vineyard, though they don’t make their own wine. They instead make their own apple fritters, caramel apple brats, and this year will have State Fair corndogs and cheese curds.

“There’s just lots to do,” said Traen-Pawelk. “We have a nature trail that winds around our animals and wet lands. It’s really pretty and peaceful. It’s my favorite spot on the whole farm.”

The nature walk features the farm animals, which live on the farm their whole lives, as well as wild flowers, bench swings, and even educational boards. In fact, the boards are one of the new features, and are designed to be “educational and fun”. They feature the many different birds the staff have seen around the farm, educating visitors on what to look for and what the birds do. These trails are popular among hikers and bikers alike. In fact, according to Traen-Pawelk, many bikers will come in, take a quick break at the orchard, and go back.

A feature that’s new to the orchard is The Doghouse, a bar that serves wine and beer as well as features a TV for watching the big game, whatever that game may be. The wine and beer are not made by the orchard, but like most things at the orchard, there’s an effort to have everything Minnesota made or Minnesota grown, so it’s as local as possible.

“There’s no excuse not to come anymore,” said Traen-Pawelk. “If you don’t want to miss the game, you don’t have to.”

Kids have plenty to do, as well. There are several games around the orchard, including an apple sling, roll-down-the-hill contests, a corn maze shaped like Larry the duck, and more. Many of the games have rewards, like the apple sling wherein if you shoot an apple through a tire you win a caramel apple. Painting stations are also a feature at the orchard so they can take something home as well.

“We really, really try to be old-fashioned fun,” said Traen-Pawelk. “So when kids go home, they’re tired, they’ve been outside and away from their computers all day.”

And of course, there’s the orchard itself, and while you can pick your own apples, Traen-Pawelk recommends actually purchasing apples from the store front.

“I think they’re better,” she said. “We pick them and put them in the cooler right away.”

Part of the reason for this is the sugar change. The apples firm up a bit, according to Traen-Pawelk, and it also keeps them from getting mushy. In fact, because of the reaction, the taste actually changes as well, and makes a difference for those looking to get the most out of their apples(or apple pie, let’s be real here). So while it’s still fun to walk through the orchard, remember that you have your choices if you want to enjoy more.

Finally, LuceLine features events all year. They opened Labor Day weekend, and are already bringing in tons of events for everyone to enjoy. First is the Stargazing, Dinner and Bluegrass on September 7. This dinner starts at 5:30pm, and goes until nightfall so people can learn about the various constellations and planets in the night sky. Just a week later on the 14, the Raptor Center will be visiting with four of their raptors including a bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, great-horned owl, and a falcon at 1pm.

If you can’t make it to these, don’t worry. There are plenty of other events throughout the season. Just check out their website lucelineorchard.com. If you’re looking for orchards closer to home, Traen-Pawelk recommended both the Minnetonka Orchards and Deardorff Orchard, as both of their owners are “amazing people, and really care about their work.” For their events, visit their websites at minnetonkaorchards.com and deardorfforchards.com.

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