By Cassie Garrett, Contributor

Over the last five years, on the eight-mile stretch of State Road, 229 between Metamora and Oldenburg, an Orchard in the making has been growing.

Today, that orchard boasts a large apple sign out front with the words “U-Pick” on it. A completed barn where visitors can pick up their bucket to go out and experience picking apples from an orchard firsthand. Rows of 10 foot tall apple trees that boast beautiful apples and a stand with a variety of apples, apple sauce and honey available to purchase.

At first glance, it is hard to realize the many fine details that went into the building of this orchard. Eric Doll, son of George and Patty Doll (who own Doll's Orchard right across the street) explained the five-year process. Year one Eric, along with his family, planted tiny, 2 foot apple trees in neat rows on the newly acquired property. Many who travel State Road 229 regularly could catch a glimpse as the Doll family started their vision.

Year two, they nurtured the trees. Year three, the trellises were added. Year four, the fence was built, and year five brought the irrigation system and the painting of the fences for the finishing touch. Then on August 24, the Doll family opened the door to the big barn and welcomed visitors for a whole new experience.

The details don't stop there. Eric, who according to his father, George, “Is the best apple picker he has,” did a lot of planning on how the trees would ripen. Every week, two rows of apple trees will have fruit that is ripe for the picking. This process started at the end of August and will continue through October. The best part, visitors will be able to go weekly and pick something completely different then what they did the week before.

This weekend Macintosh and Jonathon apples, along with other varieties, were ready to be taken home by the half peck or peck. Next weekend as those varieties transition out, you will find “good eaters” coming in, Eric explained. These ripened rows will bear Empire, Yellow Delicious, Red Delicious and Snow Sweet apples. The following week will bring a whole new experience as more of their 20 different varieties ripen. From tart to sweet, there is an apple for everyone in the family to like. When asked, George Doll recommended his favorite, Grimes Golden Apples.

Integrity is a big part of what this family does at the U-Pick Orchard as well as the original Doll's Orchard across the street.

“Every apple gets touched twice,” Eric said.

Once when it is picked and then once when sorted for quality. It is a very hands-on process that owners George and Patty do every day. When cleaning them, there is a specific process too.

Once collected, apples are dumped onto a machine with a conveyor-belt-type system. The machine pulls them through as they get rinsed twice and then pushed onto sponges that absorb the excess water. After that, they cross the “eliminator.” This piece of the equipment allows apples that are not large enough to fall out before they reach one last resting spot for inspection before bagging. It is a circular area at the end of the machine, where Patty herself looks at each apple to make sure only the best make it into the bags that visitors purchase. Apples that hit the ground

at either orchard are not used for customer consumption.

Besides quality and a unique experience, family is another thing found along this stretch of highway. Visit George and Patty at the original part of Doll's Orchard where all the varieties of apples are already in packages and ready for purchase. Here, views of the 16-acre orchard are visible as well as wooden crates full of multi-colored apples. Explanations of each apple's flavor profile accompany the apples. Across the street at the U-Pick orchard Eric's daughters Georgeanna (named after her Grandpa George) and Dorothy, (named after her great-grandma Dorothy) work one day each on the weekend helping guide their guests through the experience. Eric can be spotted at one or both depending on where he is needed. Continue down a little further on State Road 229 and find Eric's cousin who owns the Villa Orchard. They offer other types of apple goodies, like apple cider and apple butter.

When planning a trip, there won't be much guidance from the internet. Eric explained that social media is a whole other thing that requires extra attention that they aren't quite ready to take on…yet. For now, they are counting on word of mouth to sustain the new orchard. So far, the feedback has been excellent from families that spend their Saturday afternoon picking apples or couples of all ages who happen across this little country orchard. “It will stay a U-Pick as long as sustainability is there,” said Eric.

They offer a membership that includes your very own bucket, a small jar of honey, and discounted U-Pick rates to encourage the community to come out more than once a season.

For more educational information on both orchards visit www.oldenburgapplelady.com or to pick and taste these apples firsthand visit the U-Pick orchard Saturday or Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. now through October.