Since buying Honey Creek Acres three years ago, Mike and Sherry Pilarczyk have had a crash course in running an orchard, growing pumpkins and making honey.
This is their first experience with all three ventures.
“We never even had a garden,” Mike, 41, said. “We couldn’t even grow a tomato plant. We’re still learning.”
The couple always wanted to own a business, but it wasn’t until Sherry saw a man in the back of a truck eating an apple in Minnesota that they decided to pursue an apple orchard.
“It was a five-minute ‘that would be cool’ — then, we realized it wouldn’t happen,” Sherry, 40, said.
They called various Eastern Iowa orchards but had no luck. Eventually, the Honey Creek deal materialized, and the Pilarczyks began their journey into the unknown.
Along with tending to 30 acres of apple trees at the orchard just outside Swisher, they planted a couple of acres of pumpkins and reopened the store that had closed in 1997. They have also planted some plum trees and new apple trees.
Last year, they planted 420 trees, and another 385 this year. About 35 varieties of apples grow in the orchard, including Lodi, Summer Treat, Paula Red, Wealthy, McIntosh and Red Delicious.
Mike credits Iowa State University Extension experts and his customers with helping him learn the ropes.
“A lot of people say they came here 20 years ago,” he said. “We both grew up here and didn’t know it existed.”
Before they owned the orchard, the Pilarczyks had never worked with bees either. Now, 1.5 million to 2 million honey bees are busy there, making honey. Rick and Brenda Handler work with the bees, and the honey is sold in the orchard’s store.
The learning doesn’t stop there.
“Next year, we’re going to fire up the bakery and make turnovers and doughnuts,” Mike said.
They sell apples to Sutliff Cider Co. in Lisbon, but would like to make their own cider.
“We’re coming up with all this as we go,” he said. “Every year, we’re learning new things and getting better.”
With polka music playing in the store and trees laden with juicy apples thriving on the beautiful hillside, the Pilarczyks have no regrets.
“We’re loving every single second of it,” Mike said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding.”
Mike holds down a full-time job as a certified public accountant at ACT in Iowa City while Sherry runs the orchard. He hopes the orchard will be going strong when their three children get older.
“The goal is to give the kids options other than just go to school and work somewhere for 40 years,” he said.