Take your pick: Apples abundant, sweet, ready for the plucking

When it comes to apples, rain late in the season is a good thing.

When it comes to apples, rain late in the season is a good thing.

This summer’s sunny weather made for sweeter apples, and crops are on time despite tropical storms Irene and Lee, according to the state Apple Association.

But the actual picking got off to a slow start.

“What happened was the first three weeks or so of the [apple picking] season we had so much bad weather that it kept a lot of people away from the orchards,” said Apple Association spokesman Peter Gregg.

Jim Hoffman of Sand Flats Orchard in Fonda said his orchard usually doesn’t get busy until mid-September, when the largest variety of apples are available. While pumpkin fields were hard hit by the storms, orchards fared much better, and growers are looking forward to a profitable year.

According to the state Apple Association, growers in New York are expected to sell more than 30 million bushels in 2011, on target with the 30.3 million bushels sold last year, though some in the Capital Region had limited crops last fall because of a late frost the preceding May.

Hoffman expects to sell 2,000 bushels this season, an improvement from last year when frost caused him to lose most of his crop.

“We had to buy apples from other growers in order to fill our orders,” Hoffman said.

Last year was also tough for Lakeview Orchard in Mayfield and Malta Ridge Orchards and Garden in Ballston Spa, both of which didn’t open their orchards to pick-your-own customers last season.

This year should be different. The rains of late August should have helped, with apples growing the most during the last 30 days on the tree, apple growers say.

Rene Perrone, co-owner of Terrace Mountain Orchard in Schoharie, said this year’s crop is the best he’s ever seen.

“The apples are big and beautiful and full of flavor,” he said. “The rain gave an extra boost to make the apples bigger, and the sunny weather was great.”

The apples now out there for the picking include McIntosh, Gala, Fuji, Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp. Other varieties like Empire, Ozark Gold, Northern Spys and Cortlands, which are usually used in baking, will begin ripening within the week.

Where to go

A look at some of the greater Capital Region orchards that allow you to pick your own apples:

• Yonder Farms, Albany, 456-6823

• Altamont Orchards, Altamont, 861-6515

• Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont, 765-2956

• Malta Ridge Orchards and Garden, Ballston Spa, 365-6015

• Eagle Mills Cider Company, Broadalbin, 883-8700

• Knight Orchard of Saratoga, Burnt Hills, 399-5174

• Fo’Castle Farm, Burnt Hills, 399-4144

• Goold Orchards, Castleton, 732-7317

• Bowman Orchards, Clifton Park, 371-2042

• Lindsey’s Idyllwood Orchard, Clifton Park, 371-5785

• Riverview Orchards, Clifton Park, 371-2174

• Bellinger’s Orchard, Fultonville, 922-8558

• Sand Flats Orchard, Fonda, 853-4999

• Hicks Orchard, Granville, 642-1788

• Rogers Family Orchard, Johnstown, 762-8736

• Lake View Orchards, Mayfield, 661-5017

• Bohringers Fruit Farm, Middleburgh, 827-5783

• Sharon Orchards, Sharon Springs, 284-2510

• Terrace Mountain Orchard, Schoharie, 295-8212

• Saratoga Apple, Schuylerville, 695-3131

• Billy Bob’s Orchard, Putnam Station, 547-8309

• Fairview Orchard, Whitehall, 282-0013

Hoffman said that although everyone has their own apple preference, he believes the Honeycrisp has been one of the more popular apples since its introduction in 1991.

“For the past 10 years it’s been the most widely planted apple tree in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s just so sweet and crisp, people love it.”

Gregg said nurseries have a difficult time keeping Honeycrisp trees in stock.

Hoffman started Sand Flats Orchard in 1991 because of the fond memories he had of going apple picking as a child with his family. Three years later, after planting 2,000 trees on six acres of land, his first crop was ready.

“I always remembered it being so much fun, so I decided to turn my hobby into an occupation,” he said.

As an inexpensive outdoor activity, apple picking is a favorite activity for families with children, as well as for couples. Many orchards offer hayrides and corn mazes for the children. Some include stores loaded with apple pies, T-shirts, cider and jellies.

Gwen VanGorder of Fonda brought her children and two of their friends on an apple-picking excursion last weekend. “It’s what we do in the fall,” she said.

For VanGorder’s youngest daughter, second-grader Emma, the family trip is especially important now that she’s too old for the trip to Sand Flats Orchard that kindergartners and first-graders go on at school.

“We always go. It’s tradition,” said VanGorder. “I did it when I was little with my family, and I want my kids to have the same experiences.”

The family picks a bushel of apples and uses the fruit to do fall baking. They also make Christmas gifts like homemade applesauce and apple butter, though the children said they like the eating more than the cooking and baking.

Friends Gina Mintzer, Kelley Okosky and Don Krutz were on a kids-free trip to buy some of their favorite apple products, like cider and baked goods, but said they would return with their children to go picking.

“We could smell the doughnuts from up the road and couldn’t stay away,” said Okosky, who lives close enough to walk to the orchard.

She joked that the only way to go apple picking is with children, so they had to wait.

“You put the smallest child on top like a totem pole to reach the apples and hope they know what they’re doing up there,” she said with a laugh.

“Apple picking is just a beautiful, fun way to get outdoors with your family,” said Hoffman.

“If you don’t have a good time, you did something wrong,” he laughed. “You can’t blame me.”

Categories: Life and Arts, Schenectady County

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