Have you made it to an orchard yet?
With lots of rain early in the season and strangely summery temps now, area growers have seen their fall produce move further and further back in the year. Which means that some varieties of apple are hitting their peak as we move into October. And with Halloween right around the corner, we’re planning our trips to area farms and orchards before the weather gets cold.
We talked to a few area growers for their tips on making the most of the season. The takeaways -- you can’t go wrong with Minnesota apples or mazes. See you there!
Handle with care. Fred Kappauf, the owner of Sekapp Orchard in Rochester, knows exactly how to pick an apple. “You cup it and you tip it up, and then the stem comes free from the fruit bud really easily,” he says. If you’re used to twisting and yanking on apples, stop -- you’ll shake the tree doing that (not a sin, but kind of rude) and leave finger bruises on your fruit which show up a day or so afterward. Be gentle with your bounty!
Remember your favorites. “Honeycrisp is by far everyone’s favorite -- it was developed in Minnesota, so those genetic materials are kind of native to the area,” says Denise Leach with Honeybear Brands, which represents Wescott Orchard in Elgin and Pepin Heights Orchards in Lake City. She also likes the variety for baking. Buying apples for eating and cooking is very dependent on individual taste, Leach says. But you can always talk to orchard/storefront staff if you’re having trouble choosing a variety.
Try some fall activities. Looking for a fun fall activity? Why not head to Willow’s Keep Farm for pumpkin-picking and gourd-slinging? Ted Galaty, the owner, is better-known for running Rochester Horror (Fright at the Farm and the Haunted Olde Pine Theatre). But during the day, the chilling location has plenty to offer scaredy-cats. It’s also the second year of Hemp Maze Minnesota at Willow’s Keep Farm, Galaty says. The educational attraction was developed to educate the public about the multipurpose plant -- enter for fun facts about it at junctions!
Heading to Sekapp instead? Buying a bag for apples will also net you a wagon ride out to the orchard and a stint in the corn maze, Kappauf says.
Look out for new crops. Wescott Orchard developed the crisp, sugary Pazazz apple recently, Leach says, which will be available later in the season (November through August, just as Honeycrisps fade out of the market). Look for it as the weather gets colder!
Willow’s Keep Farm also has a hemp store that sells much more than CBD, Galaty says. Look for soap, jewelry, clothing, and more. “This plant can be used for thousands of different things -- it can clothe you, it can shelter you, it can feed you, it can heal you,” he says.
And a few more tips. Always, always check orchards’ rules for pets (are they allowed?), and entry (is there an admission fee and charge for picking, or does buying a bag cover your entrance?), Kappauf says. And dress for the weather outdoors. Layer up, wear good walking shoes, and stick with long pants if you’re worried about scratches from plants.
And as usual -- have fun!