If you’re looking for a scarecrow contest, pumpkin catapults or a petting zoo, don’t bother to stop at the Merickels’ place near German Lake.

A small Irish Mountain Orchard sign just west of Elysian points the way to a gravel road. Inside a warehouse a small table holds 10-pound bags of apples for sale.

There are no splashy signs, animals to pet, crafts or music. Just lots of apples to see, smell and buy.

“I enjoy the apple business,” said Dwain Merickel. “It’s nice to have something that everyone enjoys. I don’t have to sell apples. People come looking for them.”

Irish Mountain Orchard grows Honeycrisp, Zestar!, Connell Red, Fireside, Regent, Haralson and a few Redwell. Merickel sells them for wholesale prices or less, between 80 cents to a dollar depending on the variety.

The Honeycrisp is his most popular apple. Merickel planted the Honeycrisp trees as soon as they were available to growers. “It is the premier apple,” Merickel said. “The Honeycrisp is the most desirable apple in the world.”

Merickel, who grew up near Mapleton, said “You never take the farm out of the boy.” He wanted to plant something other than corn or soybeans. “And I had steep ground that wasn’t suitable for crops.”

He planted a few apple trees and then “I just planted more and more.” The Merickels have between 10,000 to 12,000 apple trees on 45 acres.

Unlike other crops, growing apple trees is a slow process. It takes three to four years before the trees bear fruit.

A former dentist in Mankato, Merickel retired in 1999. His wife, Mildred, spends long hours determining the grades of the apples and helping during the harvest. “His retirement project is getting bigger and bigger,” she said.

They sell most of their apples to a wholesaler near Rochester and eventually the apples return to the area at Cub Food stores. Customers can buy apples directly from Irish Mountain by the pound or bushel.

The orchard also sells seconds, which are slightly bruised apples, at lower prices. Seconds can be used to make pies or baked desserts.

The secret to selling a good-tasting apple, Merickel said, is to pick them when they are ripe and not before.

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