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Kansas man shares apples with own orchard

October 20, 2008|By NIKKI PATRICK / The (Pittsburg, Kan.) Morning Sun

GIRARD, Kan. (AP) _ Joe Cizerle often asks new acquaintances if they have an apple tree in their yard.

If they don't, he tells them not to bother planting one.

"I've got enough apples for both of us," Cizerle said.

In fact, he's got around 300 apple trees at the orchard, not to mention 25 pecan trees, five varieties of grapes and some pear trees.

He was born three miles from his current home in rural Girard, the son of immigrants from Yugoslavia.

"My dad was a guy who could do anything," Cizerle said.

He left home in 1950 and got a job at a steel mill in Waukegan, Ill., but it just wasn't for him.

"I was 20, and I told my boss I wanted to quit and go back to Kansas," Cizerle said. "He told me if I did that I'd get drafted. I didn't think anything about it, and I got back here in March. By September, I was in training, and in March 1952, they sent me to Korea. I was a radio operator, and I was there 16 months. Some nights it was quiet all night, and some nights there was gunfire all night. The Korean War ended in 1953."

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He said he has no complaints about being in the military, and developed a deep appreciation for the American way of life.

"I saw about half the world while I was in the military, and what I saw was kids running around with no clothes when it was freezing cold, begging for something to eat," Cizerle said.

He worked at Hull and Dillon Packing Co. for several years, before suffering a heart attack in 1977. He started his orchard around 1985.

"I'd buy a few trees when I had some money, paying about $2 a tree," he said.

He got the idea for growing pecans when he went to Oklahoma and visited a commercial grove near Ardmore.

"If there was one pecan tree there, there were 10,000," Cizerle said. "I came home with four trees, put them in buckets with sawdust and sand, and forgot about them."

The trees are thriving now.

"It seems to be a pretty good crop this year if nothing happens to them," Cizerle said. "I have a standing fight with the squirrels."

The apples are doing well, too, with a few branches so loaded with fruit that they've broken. Cizerle sells boxes of apples from his garage, and his wife takes some to the Girard Farmer's Market.

The grapes had originally been planted by John Zibert, who had plans for starting a winery. After a few years, he didn't want to bother with them and told Cizerle he could get rid of them.

"We pick them and sell them to Smokey Hill Winery in Salina," Cizerle said. "The guy comes and gets them in a truck ' it's $280 now for fuel for a round-trip between here and Salina."

His picking is done by neighbors and volunteers.

"I take them to Chicken Annie's every year and let them have at it," Cizerle said.

When he has a question about something, he calls up Dean Stites, Crawford County Extension agriculture agent. "He's pretty handy over in Girard, and I've learned a lot from him," Cizerle said.

He also does a lot of gardening, and has turkeys and guinea fowl on his property. There's also a lonely peahen, and Cizerle is thinking of getting a mate for her.

"Some days I'll spend 15 minutes in the orchard, and sometimes I'm in it half a day," he said. "If you like to do something, it's not work."

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