Products from Ela Orchard are currently available at Willy East and Willy West.
Ela Orchard is not organic, but they utilize a method called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that strives to understand the life cycles of both detrimental and beneficial insects. Bob Willard’s most challenging pest is a fungus called apple scab that thrives in Wisconsin’s climate. Usually it only affects the apple in a cosmetic way, but it can also cause cracking and leaf defoliation. Most older apple varieties are very susceptible to this scab (Macs, Cortlands, and Macouns). This is the primary reason there are so few organic orchards in Wisconsin. “We approach the issue of pests with as little spray and as much knowledge as we can. There are many times that we gamble.” The issue of pests affects many facets of the operation: harvest , storing, to selling of the apples. In this complicated dance of philosophy, chance, ecology, and economics they strive to be the best land stewards they can while keeping the business viable.
There are apple trees at Ela Orchard that were planted in the 1940’s and are still producing. Currently there are 20 acres of apples with 1200 trees producing 35 different varieties of apples and a few different kinds of pears including the coveted Moonglow Pear. Apple varieties range from the older Snows and Russets to “standards” such as Red and Golden Delicious to newer scab resistant varieties like the Gala, Liberty and Jonafree. Ela Orchard often pick the apples later in season than most orchards, increasing the flavor although increasing the risk of apples dropping off the trees.
Bob’s grandfather was a lawyer, politician and dairy farmer and in 1920 he bought the land that is currently home to Ela Orchard. This generation focused their efforts on dairy production, yet they started planting apple trees in the late 1920’s. The third generation (Bob’s aunt and uncle) really brought the orchard into its prominence and by the mid-1950’s the dairy operation was completely gone.
Although Bob’s mother spent her childhood at the orchard, Bob grew up on the near west side of Madison. He spent many of his summers at the orchard and he began assisting with the harvest during college. 1972 marked his first full season at the orchard and in 1978 he and his cousin Edwin became official active partners –the 3rd generation working this particular piece of land. Edwin and his family still live and work at the orchard as does Bob’s wife, Jane Hamilton and children, Hannah (age 14) and Ben (age 16). All of the family members have lived the rhythms of the orchard and participated in its life in some way.
The longevity of the apple trees themselves is also worth noting. There are apple trees at Ela Orchard that were planted in the 1940’s and are still producing. Bob admits that these trees are showing their age now and most orchards would have replaced them by now. However, one might imagine that these trees are keeping watch over their own type of generational transfer. New trees are added to the orchard every year – many of those just filling in where others have died off. Larger groups were planted in the 1960’s and again in 1985. Currently there are 20 acres of apples with about 1200 trees producing 35 different varieties of apples and a few different kinds of pears including the coveted Moonglow Pear. Apple varieties range from the older Snows and Russets to “standards” such as Red and Golden Delicious to newer scab resistant varieties like the Gala, Liberty and Jonafree. One of the reasons that Ela Orchard apples are so good is that they often pick the apples later in their season than most orchards. This increases the flavor of the apple although it means that there is more risk of apples dropping off the trees.
Located in Rochester, WI
Owner - Bob Willard
Producer website - http://elaorchard.com/