Open season at Appleberry Farm

Long process begins to pay off for new owners

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE BURVEE Dave Mason and son, Jack, have been busy in preparing for the upcoming apple season in August. The farm has been open since early July with sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers on hand. Dave and his wife, Kelly, took ownership of the farm in January this year.

In January, Dave and Kelly Mason became the new owners of Appleberry Farm, located on the outskirts of Marshalltown off West Main Street. In late November last year, long-term owners Bob and Donna Atha began the search for a new owner. They decided to enter retirement after operating the farm for 34 years.

The Masons frequently drove by the property and noticed it was for sale.

“For the past couple years my wife kept telling me we needed a place like this,” Dave said.

Kelly wanted to come out to talk to the Athas and see the farm grounds. Dave didn’t have much intention in making a purchase that day, but when he left, he acquired 19.5 acres to his name.

The ownership officially changed hands in January, with much work to be done before opening this month. Friends and strangers alike have volunteered time to help the Masons clean up the property and get it prepared for the harvesting season.

That officially got under way at the farm around July 6, composed mostly of sweet corn. South of town lies five acres of the Spring Valley sweetcorn, which will still be under operation by Dave.

Walking into the Appleberry Farm’s shop one will find fall-themed trinkets and other odds and ends. Jams and jellies line shelves for purchase and baskets of sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini and pepper can also be bought.

“People are starting to trickle in here to buy our sweet corn,” Dave said. “It’ll be about another month before apples are ready to be picked.”

The apple season generally runs from mid-August to late October or early November, depending on weather.

This fall the Masons are planning on making a new sweet treat to keep customers coming back.

“We’re going to be making cider donuts,” Dave said. “We will be implementing a commercial-style kitchen for this fall, so that should be popular.”

More than 1,000 trees on site contain 26 different varieties of apples. Some past favorites include Honeycrisp and Braeburn.

“Everyone you to talk to tends to have their own favorite apple,” Dave said. “Enterprises and Chieftains are popular too, they come out late but keep well when refrigerated.”

The trees are currently facing two battles, one with Mother Nature and the second with Japanese beetles.

The beetles don’t have much effect on the apples themselves, usually going after the leaves on the tree. As the apples grow larger they do become targets, requiring spraying.

The other factor has been the long spell of dryness.

“We need some rain,” Dave said. “That will factor into when picking can begin.”

Some other produce customers can find on the property are pumpkins. Seeds were planted in mid-June, the lack of rain will take its toll on them as well.

The Masons also put their offspring to work on their farm, with Jack being on hand the most. James and Jaymi round out the bunch and will help upkeep it as the season moves along.

“I was retired, but not anymore,” Dave said. “Kelly is working full-time at the hospital but she’ll begin working fewer hours.”

Other ideas are in the works leading into next year with hopes of adding variety and increasing popularity. Two such ideas are horse and buggy rides along the property, with over nine acres remaining at the Masons disposal. Another idea Dave has been looking into includes a Haunted Orchard nearer Halloween.

It’s been hard, tedious work for the Masons this year, and it’s only begun. It’s still early in the season but customers should pick up in the next month when apples become available.

The farm is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day of the week. The farm can be contacted via phone at (641) 752-8443 or via Facebook.

“It was a gamble for us to take this step,” Dave said. “The Athas could have sold this to developers for more profit, but they wanted to keep the farm going.”