Apples are aplenty in autumn, and for some local families, picking your own fruit is a fun activity. Apple picking can be a nice way to spend a little outside time in the fall and it helps kids appreciate the work that farmers do and how our food grow. Our guide to local apple picking in Northern Virginia list seven farms that offer pick-your-own options.
Among the apple varieties you may find are Gala, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Jonagold, Fuji, and more. These options vary by farm and from year to year. Before you head out to a local farm to pick your own apples, it helps to have a plan, especially if this is your first time doing so. Below are our top tips for making the most of your experience.
Time it right
Apple picking season is usually from September to October. When exactly the fruit will be ready depends of course on the season (and how weather has affected it) and a farm’s own growing process. Once you pick out a farm or two to visit, call ahead to check on availability, and follow the company on social media for updates. Also note that some farms are basic, offering just the apple picking, while others have activity areas for kids, produce and gift shops, cafes, and special events. Marker-Miller Orchards in Winchester, Virginia, for example, is very large and has several play areas for kids. Knowing what else you can do before and after picking will help you plan your day better. Don’t forget to try the fresh apple cider and delicious cider donuts many of these farms sell!
Know your varieties
Not all apples are equal. From tart to sweet, crunchy to tender, each kind of apple has distinct qualities. These characteristics make some apple varietals more suitable for specific purposes, such as baking. Whether you’re choosing the fruits for snacking, canning, or baking, knowing which apples are best for each purpose will help you select which farm to visit for apple picking. (The United States Apple Association, by the way, notes that you can find more than 100 apple varieties of apples in the United States, but just 15 of the popular kinds account for almost 90 percent of production!)
Teach the kids
Before you go, know the right way to pick an apple. To properly pick an apple off a tree, you should gentry roll the apple to twist the stem so it just snaps off the branch easily. Don’t force the apple too hard, grab the branches, or shake a branch at all, as this could cause many apples to fall. It’s important to know the right technique and gentle approaches, especially to younger children. If you’re not sure of your apple picking skills, ask an employee of the farm to help you. They want you to have a successful picking session and to have fun, so they will be happy to show you the best techniques.
Know the rules
Each farm has its own rules about what you bring (for example, your own buckets of if they provide bushels), if pets are allowed or not, and more. Check the farm’s website or call ahead to find out the rules to avoid any surprises.
Bring your camera
A photo of your kids surrounded by apple trees or holding up a bushel of their pickings makes for a lovely memento. Get someone to take a picture of your group, and it could even be a nice photo later to send out with holiday cards! Some of the farms have fun props for photo opportunities.
Plan for storage
If you’re going to be picking a large number of apples, ask the farm about their shelf life and the best way to store the fruit. You don’t want to spend all that time, energy, and money apple picking just to have your prized produce go bad! Also ask about the best use for the apples and look up some fun recipes. Apples can be versatile ingredients that serve up more than sweets. In addition to pies, pastries, cakes apple butter, and homemade applesauce, apples can help you create savory dishes. Try them in a chutney, meat glaze, soup, or more!
Now that you know what to do, where will you go? See our list of Northern Virgin area apple orchards!
Photo credits: Top photo from Stock Unlimited; all other photos by P. Hall, all rights reserved.