Door County is known for beautiful views, exquisite shops and of course – cherries. Yesterday I had the fantastic opportunity to go to Seaquist Orchards to learn all about cherries and Wisconsin’s cherry industry.
Dale Seaquist met me at their Farm Market north of Sister Bay. Dale showed me around their store that carries all their products that are made from cherries. From cherry jellies and jam, cherry turnovers and pies, to even cherry mustard (a favorite of mine), the store is packed with delicious cherry items.
About 150 years ago, the Seaquist family moved to Wisconsin from Sweden and started a small apple orchard. They heard about the success of cherries in other parts of the county, so they made the three day trip to Sturgeon Bay and bought 700 cherry trees at six cents per tree. When the cherries were harvested, the boat was used to take the cherries across the water to cities on the other side of the bay. Today, Seaquist Orchards is in its sixth generation of the family business. They have grown to about 1,000 acres of cherries, and are the largest cherry grower in Wisconsin.
Dale took me on a tour through some of the acres of mostly Montmorency cherries which are a tart cherry that is ideal for baking. Dale also showed me other trees that are on the farm including apple and pear trees. Although we just missed the cherry blossoms, the apple trees were in full blossom which made for great pictures.
The lovely, fragrant cherry blossoms are a rite of spring. Bees must pollinate the flowers. Just as the trees begin to blossom, cherry growers let bees loose in order to distribute the pollen so that fruit will blossom. The flower must be pollinated in order for the tree to bear fruit.
Cherry trees can last a long time and they buy their new trees when they are about one year old and plant them. As the trees grow over the next couple of years, they do things to help the limbs of the tree grow out instead of up. It’s important to keep the tree balanced and strong for when it bears fruit. The trees won’t really be harvested until they are four or five years old.
On one cherry tree there is on average 7,000 cherries – enough to make 28 cherry pies! Because cherries can easily be harvested by a machine, the trees need to be able to handle the 40,000 pounds of thrust the shaker uses, so they need time to develop a strong root system. The Seaquists plant about 8,000 trees a year mostly replacing old trees. In total, they have close to 100,000 cherry trees!
Cherries are harvested at the end of July. After the cherries are shaken from the tree in less than seven seconds, they are taken to the processing plant in large metal tanks. The cherries are cooled in water and then are dumped into another tank to begin processing. The cherries come out of the water and on to a series of conveyor belts that shake away any remaining stems and leaves. The cherries are separated by size, pitted, and inspected before they are loaded into 30 pound buckets with 5 pounds of sugar.
Besides tasting great, cherries really are “America’s Superfruit” since they are packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
Thank you to the whole Seaquist Family and everyone at Seaquist Orchards for such an amazing day!