In 2015, the most unique farm maze in the country will open in Illinois. Royal Oak Farm’s apple-shaped maze was planted in 2012 and consists of 3,000 trees on about 4 1/2 acres.
“We’ll have nine varieties of apples in the maze,” says Dennis Norton of Royal Oak Farm Orchard. “People will be able to wander through and pick the apples that are ripe at different times of the harvest season.”
Norton credits his father-in-law, Peter Bianchini, founder of the orchard, with the idea for a maze. They turned to Maze Play, a maze design company, for a plan.
They received a computer printout with GPS coordinates for each tree and began planting. Trickle irrigation lines and landscape fabric for weed control were also put in place.
“The trees are being trained espalier fashion to grow on a set of wires,” he says. “When fully grown, the maze walls will be 7 feet tall and 2 to 2 1/2 feet thick. Four wires are strung at 1 1⁄2-foot intervals on 456 posts. Trees are spaced 3 feet apart, and alleys are 8 to 12 feet wide.”
From the air, it will look like a Red Delicious apple with leaves at the stem. Each variety is planted in several areas, ensuring plenty of apples for visitors. The alleys are planted to a grass mix bred for heavy traffic. This is vital, as the farm’s U-pick operation attracts 4,000 to 5,000 people per weekend from mid-August through October. Once the maze opens, they expect even more traffic.