by Joni Astrup
On a sunny day late last month at Thistle Rock Orchard in Elk River, the trees were loaded with apples and a steady stream of people stopped by to pick them.
Lynn Lane, who owns the orchard with her husband, Tom, greeted each customer warmly, gave them bags and explained how colored ribbons on the trees indicate the apple variety.
Then she left them to wander among the trees and pick their own apples at their own pace.
“I like to turn them loose,” she said.
There are no wagon rides, gift shops or prepicked apples at this orchard. Rather, it’s just the simple pleasure of picking apples under a deep blue sky in a quiet orchard.
“I like seeing people having fun, children having fun,” Lane said.
One man who returned from picking apples in the orchard told her, “It’s a pretty cool operation.”
Lane and her family moved to the farm in 1971 when County Road 33 that runs past their driveway was still a gravel road. She grew up in Mounds View and Tom, in Osseo.
Early on, the only apple tree on the place was one McIntosh. When it died, Lane said she missed her apples so she planted two Fireside trees in the early ’80s. That held her for some time, until a co-worker brought her a Honeycrisp apple when the variety first came out.
She liked Honeycrisp and thought, ‘Why couldn’t I plant a couple of these?’
So she got 30 Honeycrisp, 10 Fireside and nine Zestar trees for $7 each from a nursery. She and some family members planted them 25 feet apart, and her orchard began to take shape. Lane said most of the trees were so tiny they had to be careful not to cut them off when they mowed.
Today, there are about 200 apple trees at Thistle Rock, including Honeycrisp, Fireside, Haralson, Cortland, Zestar and others. Lane sticks almost entirely to apple trees that grow in Zone 4. Most of the varieties she grows were developed by the University of Minnesota. Honeycrisp is her favorite apple to eat, while Zestar is her favorite to grow and sell.
They planted most of the trees in the late 1990s and opened the orchard to the public about 10 years ago.
The Lanes arrived at the name Thistle Rock while kicking around ideas with her brother, Mark. When he told her all they have there is thistles and rocks, they named it Thistle Rock Ranch, Kennel and Orchard.
They also board horses and raise field trial, hunt test, hunting and family golden retrievers.
Lane retired in 2004 after 38 1/2 years with Alliant Techsystems in New Brighton, Hopkins and at the proving grounds near Elk River.
Tom continues to work as a barber.
Lane said she’s always liked apples and learned about them by visiting the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and by reading.
“It’s not all easy,” she said. “But if you educate yourself, you can do it.”
If you go
What: Thistle Rock Orchard
Where: 11076 205th Ave., Elk River. The orchard is located on County Road 33 about 1/2 mile east of Highway 169.
When: The orchard is open from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It is expected to be open for several more weeks.
Price: Honeycrisp apples are $1 a pound; other varieties are 50 cents a pound. Ground falls are free.
For more information: Call 763-441-3162.