VISIT an orchard in the fall and you get a lot more than fruit: Crisp country air, mountain views, quiet ponds, friendly farm animals and old-fashioned festivals all add to the ambience of a pick-your-own outing.
Fortunately, you can get a lot of tasty apples as well, despite the extended dry spells over the past few months.
"We love this weather, when it's a drought in the summer," says Lisa Shannon, co-owner of Shady Hill Farm and Orchard in Carroll County. "It seems to make [the fruit] sweeter -- more sweet and more flavorful."
"Oh, the flavor's going to be tremendous," says Dick Biggs, co-owner of Rock Hill Orchard in Montgomery County. "You have more natural juices; it's not diluted with water."
The dry weather also made insect damage almost non-existent this year, Biggs says. He sprayed insecticide only once, a big change from the 10 to 15 sprayings usually required.
Growers note that some apples may be a little smaller than usual, although the late-summer downpours helped a lot of fruit size up just before the big picking season. Continuing rains may hurt some varieties, such as Staymans, which tend to crack with a sudden, late growth spurt.
Orchards throughout the region grow a wide assortment of varieties, from sweet eating apples to tart cooking fruits to uncommon "heirloom" apples. Most types remain ripe for the picking for roughly a two-week period. Early varieties like Gala peaked early this month, while later fruits such as Granny Smith probably won't ripen until at least the end of September.
Red Delicious remains a popular apple for fresh eating, although most growers say it's one of the least flavorful varieties. Sweet, all-purpose apples include such varieties as Golden Delicious, Magnolia Gold, Fuji and Mutsu. Jonathan and Granny Smith appeal to both sweet and tart apple lovers and work well both for fresh eating and cooking. Other sweet/tart apples include Empire, Grimes Golden, Macoun, Braeburn, Melrose and Idared. Tart apples, ideal for cooking but also good for munching, include Rome, Stayman, Winesap, Greening and York, a uniquely lopsided variety that creates its own waxy coating for prolonged storage.
EVERYTHING'S COMING UP APPLES
Pick your own apples at the following orchards, all within a couple of hours of Washington. Proprietors strongly recommend calling to find out which varieties are available, as the estimated picking times given here are subject to change. Unless otherwise noted, the orchards provide
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bags or other containers. Almost all trees are dwarf or semi-dwarf size and don't require ladders or poles for picking. Prices vary, occasionally running as low as 25 cents per pound, but generally ranging from 59 cents to 89 cents per pound, with discounts sometimes available for bulk purchases. Most orchards also sell additional fall produce and ready-picked apples, including such early varieties as Gala. (See Saturday's Child on Oct. 1 for listings of pick-your-own pumpkin places with family activities.)
WEBER'S CIDER MILL FARM -- 2526 Proctor Lane, Baltimore. 410/668-4488. Take the Baltimore Beltway (Route 695) to Exit 30-B (Perring Parkway). Go north until the parkway ends, about a half-mile. Turn left on Waltham Woods Road and go a quarter-mile to the first stop sign. Turn right onto Proctor Lane. Open 9 to 8 daily, with picking until dusk. Admission is free. Red and Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples on dwarf trees are available this month only. Take a hayride, $1 per person, from 10 to 6 Saturdays and Sundays. The Johnny Appleseed Festival, this Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5, features crafts, pit beef, live bluegrass, a giant hay maze with $2 admission and a scarecrow workshop, all materials provided, $15 per scarecrow. During October, pumpkins and children's activities take over.
SHADY HILL FARM AND ORCHARD -- 2001 New Windsor Rd. (Route 31), New Windsor. 410/875-0572. Take I-270 north to Route 15 north to Route 26 east through Libertytown. Go left on Route 31 and travel eight miles to the orchard on the right, one driveway past Route 407. Open 10 to 5 Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31. This revived nine-year-old orchard, which enthusiastic new owners Lisa Shannon and Chris Tuel opened two years ago, holds 600 dwarf trees on five acres bearing Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Empires. A pick-your-own pumpkin patch opens Oct. 2. Visitors can take free hayrides through the orchard and to the pumpkin patch on Sundays.
LARRILAND FARM -- 2415 Woodbine Rd. (Route 94), south of Lisbon. Call 301/854-6110 for a recording with directions, Washington area; 410/442-2605, Baltimore area; and 410/489-7034 to schedule group hayrides. Web site: www.pickyourown.com. Open 9 to 5 Saturdays, 10 to 5 Sundays and 9 to 6 Monday through Friday through Nov. 1. The farm's 16 acres of apples include at least a dozen varieties, each of which can be picked for approximately two weeks. This month and possibly into October, look for Red and Golden Delicious, Magnolia Gold, Empire, Macoun and Jonagold. Idared and Stayman most likely will peak in early October, followed by Mutsu and Fuji. The picking season ends with Braeburn and Granny Smith. Other varieties, such as Fortune and Enterprise, may be available in limited quantities starting in late September. Trellises support many trees for easy picking. Receive a price break when you pick 20 pounds or more. Other pick-your-own fall crops include tomatoes and flowers during September, pumpkins and winter squash throughout October, broccoli from mid- to late-October, and spinach in late October. The farm features children's activities and pumpkins during October.
HOMESTEAD FARM -- 15600 Sugarland Rd., Poolesville. 301/977-3761. Open 9 to 6 daily. This rural setting just 12 miles from the Beltway features about 3,000 dwarf trees on seven to eight acres. Varieties expected to be available for the next week or so include Gala, Jonathan, Jonagold, Empire and Melrose. Red and Golden Delicious should be ready to pick now through early October, and Liberty apples likely will be around until mid-October. Look for Stayman, Braeburn and Fuji from the end of September through early October, and Granny Smith in late September through mid-October. A few Rome Beauties should be available late this month. Ask about reduced prices for pick-your-own purchases of more than 10 pounds. Pick your own red raspberries until the first frost. Pick pumpkins in October and take weekend hayrides, from 10 to 5, for $1.50 per person.
ROCK HILL ORCHARD -- 28600 Ridge Rd. (Route 27), Mount Airy. 301/831-7427. Take I-270 to Exit 16-A (Route 27) and go toward Damascus. Turn left at the Shell Station (still Route 27) and go 2.5 miles to the farm on the left. Open 9 to 6 daily until Nov. 1. The orchard has close to 600 semi-dwarf trees. This week, look for Jonathan, Empire, Red and Golden Delicious and possibly a few Galas. Varieties expected to ripen toward the end of September include Stayman and Melrose, followed by Rome Beauty and York Imperial. Buy 20 pounds or more for a discount. Pick-your-own raspberries also should be available during September. Weather permitting, visitors can take free hayrides to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch on weekend afternoons in October.
Prince George's County
CHERRY HILL FARM -- 12300 Gallahan Rd., near Fort Washington. 301/292-1928 (recording with directions) or 301/292-4642. Web site: www.cherryhillfarm.com. Open 8 to 7 Monday through Saturday, 8 to 5 Sundays through September; 8 to 6 daily in October. Owned and operated by the Gallahan family for six generations, this farm includes a 20-acre, 2,500-tree orchard. Nearly all the trees are semi-dwarf -- Fuji apples grow on dwarf trees -- but visitors can borrow long-handled picking poles to reach fruit at the top. Pick Red Delicious and possibly Golden Delicious now. Rome Beauty and Stayman picking should start shortly and continue through at least early October. Look for Winesap and Fuji apples throughout October. In October, the farm offers pick-your-own pumpkins and numerous children's activities. Cherry Hill also specializes in homemade ice cream and baked goods.
HARTLAND ORCHARD -- In Markham. 540/364-2316. Web site: www.hartlandorchard.com. From I-66 Exit 18, go north on Leeds Manor Road (Route 688) and west on Belle Meade Road; follow signs to orchard on the right. Open 8 to 6 daily, possibly through early November. September varieties at this 70-acre apple orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains include Red and Golden Delicious, Grimes Golden, Greening, Jonathan and Cortland. In October, look for Granny Smith, Winesap, Rome Beauty, York and Stayman. Apple-picking poles with attached baskets, for reaching fruit on high branches, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors also can purchase honey made in on-site hives. The orchard encourages people to use provided containers rather than bringing their own. Most visitors purchase five or more bushels. The orchard also sells such fall produce as cider and pumpkins.
LINDEN VINEYARDS AND ORCHARD -- 3708 Harrels Corner Rd., Linden. 540/364-1997. Web site: www.lindenvineyards.com. Take I-66 west to Linden-Front Royal Exit 13. Follow Route 55 east one mile. Turn right at the Linden Post Office and take Route 638 two miles to the orchard on the right. Open 11 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays through late October. This small orchard specializes in rare, expensive heirloom varieties on easy-to-pick trellised dwarf trees. Because so many varieties are uncommon, children must be well-supervised. The orchard's most prolific fruits, available from late September to early October, include Esopus Spitzenburg, Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple; Ashmead's Kernal, a tasty fruit that looks like a potato; and Black Amish, a cooking apple. Newtown Pippin apples, recommended for pies, should be available from early to mid-October. The orchard also grows the better-known Jonagolds, available now. This season, the orchard boasts its first full crop of Calville Blanc, a French dessert apple that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello. It should be ready for picking in early October.
STRIBLING ORCHARD -- On Route 688 South in Markham. 540/364-3040. Web site: www.virginiaorchard.com. Take I-66 west to Markham Exit 18. Go south on Route 688 for a quarter-mile to the orchard on the left. Open 8 to 6 daily until Thanksgiving. The 60-acre orchard at this 200-year-old, seventh-generation family farm contains mostly semi-dwarf trees. Visitors can use picking poles. Red and Golden Delicious are expected to be at their peak this weekend, along with Jonathan, Grimes Golden, McIntosh and Empire. In late September and into October, look for Rome Beauty, Stayman, Winesap, York Imperial and Granny Smith. Other varieties may be available in limited quantities. The mountain-view orchard includes picnic areas. Visitors also can pick pumpkins (starting Monday) and pet and feed apples to pigs (including some 20 piglets), goats, a calf, ponies, chickens and ducks. This weekend, the orchard is part of the Fauquier County Fall Farm Tour, featuring pony rides and hayrides. Stribling family historians will lead informal guided tours of the property's historic buildings, which normally aren't available to the public. Events take place from 10 to 4 Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday from 9:30 to 4, Leeds Episcopal Church holds its 16th annual Apple Fest at the orchard, with bluegrass music by the Page County Ramblers (who also appear on Sunday), copper-kettle apple butter-making, sheepdog trials, crafts, baked goods, a Civil War display and various refreshments. Admission is free. Hayrides take place from 11 to 3 every weekend, with $3 admission, free for children younger than age 5. Pony rides, generally available from 11 to 3, also cost $3 per person.
RICHARD'S FRUIT MARKET -- 6410 Middle Rd., Middletown. 540/869-1455. Take I-66 west to I-81 north to Exit 307 (Stephens City). Turn left and travel about three miles to the T-intersection. Turn left and go one mile to the market, on the right. Open 8:30 to 6 Monday through Saturday, 10 to 6 Sundays until Nov. 28. This 46-year-old family orchard features five acres of semi-dwarf trees. Pick Red and Golden Delicious apples, probably through early October. The market also sells fresh-baked pies and hand-dipped ice cream. The annual free Orchard Festival takes place all day on Oct. 16-17, with live bluegrass music from 2 to 4, antiques and crafts, free hayrides, food, children's games, pony rides (for a small fee) and a petting zoo featuring two miniature goats.
RINKER ORCHARDS INC. -- 1156 Marlboro Rd., Stephens City. 540/869-1499. Take I-66 west to I-81 north to Exit 307 (Stephens City). Turn left, go 2.5 to three miles, and look for the farm on the right. Open 10 to 6 daily through Columbus Day; after that, hours vary according to apple availability. This 100-year-old family business features a 150-acre orchard of mostly dwarf trees. Current varieties include Red and Golden Delicious and Idared. Nittany, York and Rome Beauty should be ripe and ready starting in early October. Pick your own red raspberries and green beans until the first frost. The orchard produces its own apple cider, available for sale. Apple butter-making takes place this Saturday and Sept. 25 by the Stephens City Lions Club. Visitors can buy apple dumplings this Saturday and baked goods sold by Stephens City United Methodist Women on Sept. 25.
CROOKED RUN ORCHARD -- 37883 E. Main St. (Business Route 7), Purcellville, 10 miles west of Leesburg. 540/338-6642. The orchard, which holds 600 semi-dwarf trees, will be open for Red and Golden Delicious picking from 8 to 6 this Saturday and Sunday and Sept. 25 and 26. Law Rome, the premiere baking apple, also may be available as early as this weekend, along with a few other varieties. Specialty produce items for sale in the market include sunflowers and fresh and dried herbs and flowers. The farm also features a free nature trail, farm animals and picnic tables.
TARARA -- 13648 Tarara Lane, off Route 15, eight miles north of Leesburg. Follow signs. 703/771-7100; call 703/478-8161 from the District and suburban Maryland. Web site: www.tarara.com. Open 11 to 5 daily. The winery's two-acre orchard of semi-dwarf apple trees features Jonamac and Jonagold until at least the end of the month. Varieties available from mid-September through early October include Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Gala and Rome Beauty. Visitors also can tour the winery and taste wines. The grounds include hiking trails, picnic tables and a small playground. The fourth-annual Great Grape Celebration fall wine festival takes place from 11 to 6 Sept. 25 and 26. Admission, $10 in advance and $15 at the door for adults, includes wine samples, hayrides, live music and an opportunity to view grape pressings. Non-tasting admission is $8 in advance, $13 at the door. Admission is free for ages 6 and under, $4 for ages 7 to 21.
MOORMONT ORCHARDS -- 6530 Moormont Rd. (Route 697), Rapidan. 540/672-0732; in Virginia, 888/742-3788. Web site: www.moormontorchards.com. Take I-66 west to Gainesville Exit 43-A. Follow Route 29 south to Culpeper, exit onto I-522 south and follow signs to the orchards, 18 miles south of Culpeper. Open 7 to 7 daily during September, 7 to 6 daily October through early November. (Visitors may enter the orchards until 45 minutes before closing time.) The orchards, featuring 50 acres of apples, sit atop historic Clark's Mountain, from which Gen. Robert E. Lee and all of his lieutenants watched their troops at Brandy Station. Visitors can view 18 counties from the mountaintop, which includes a picnic area and playground. Moormont's store sells Virginia foodstuffs, cider and other merchandise. Now through early October, look for Red and Yellow Delicious. Idared, Granny Smith, Stayman, York and Old Fashioned Winesap should be available throughout October, along with a limited supply of Fuji starting Oct. 15. Visitors also can pick Bosc pears, probably through Sept. 25, and Damson plums, until the beginning of October. On Mondays and Wednesdays during September, receive a 25 percent discount when you pick at least a bushel of apples. The orchards also offer a frequent buyers' program and a seniors' pick-your-own discount of 15 percent on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
HIGH PLACES ORCHARDS -- 121 Winesap Lane, Flint Hill. 540/635-5537. From Front Royal, follow I-522 for eight miles south, turn left on Route 662 and go a half-mile, then turn left on Winesap Lane. Open dawn to dusk daily through early November; call first for exact hours. Current varieties available for picking at this 20-acre, semi-dwarf orchard include Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan, McIntosh and Giant Winesap. Stayman, York and Granny Smith should be available starting in late September. Visitors can picnic by a pond. (Swimming and fishing are prohibited.)
MUSKRAT HAVEN FARM -- On Route 211, four miles west of Amissville, 15 miles west of Warrenton. 540/937-5191. Open 9 to 6 daily until the end of October. The nine-acre orchard's semi-dwarf trees provide Red and Golden Delicious, Jonamac, Rome Beauty and Stayman apples, most likely through this month. Winesap should be available in October. Red raspberries should be on hand for picking until the end of September, and pick-your-own pumpkins will be available throughout October. The farm features haunted hayrides, recommended for ages 6 and older, from dusk until 10 the last two weekends in October, $5 per person.
For all its charms, an orchard outing can leave you with unpleasant memories if you come unprepared.
"Poison ivy and apple trees go hand in hand," warns Dick Biggs, co-owner of Rock Hill Orchard in Montgomery County. He recommends that pickers wear long pants, socks and sturdy shoes.
Growers don't mind if you sample an apple or two, but Biggs cautions that, especially on warm days, the fruits' juice attracts bees and yellow jackets. Wear bug repellent to be on the safe side.
Orchard owners expect pickers to follow certain standard rules of conduct:
Pick only in designated areas, to avoid wasting fruit and possibly damaging trees not yet ready for picking.
Gently twist the fruit; if you pull too hard, you'll damage the next growing season's buds.
Pick only what you can store: Most varieties keep for two to three weeks in the refrigerator.
Leave your pets at home, as excited dogs create a nuisance both for the growers and customers.
Most orchards welcome children but expect them to be under parents' watchful eyes.
For more information on orchards visit www.marylandapples.org and www.virginiaapples.org.