CAPITAL REGION — Dusk is coming earlier, and pumpkin spice lattes are on the menu board, and the thoroughbreds are headed back to Belmont. No getting around it, fall is coming, if not yet in the air.
Another sure sign is that the first of the apple crop is in at Capital Region orchards.
Saratoga Apple in Schuylerville started its popular pick-your-own operation on Friday, and expects to be offering it daily into early November.
Saratoga Apple owner Nate Darrow said several rows of early MacIntosh varieties near its retail barn opened for pick-your-own for the Labor Day weekend, and more of the orchard will be opened by next weekend, as more apples ripen. The business has also added a hard cider and beer tasting room this year, he noted.
"Apples are faring beautifully. we have a lovely crop and no complaints," Darrow said. "The Macs look beautiful and they really look very red, they are reddening earlier than in some years."
The season also looks good at Bowman Orchards in Clifton Park, which will be shifting from picking late summer apples to the fall varieties that hang low and juicy, and offer the experience that has become an autumn tradition for so many families.
Apples, it turns out, were quietly thriving during the cool and rainy weather that characterized the spring and early part of this summer. Crucially, there were also no late frosts in May, when apple buds are at a delicate stage.
"So far, everything looks great," said Kevin Bowman, whose family owns Bowman Orchards. "It was a tough berry season. But apples loved it."
Bowman currently has pick-your-own open for Tydeman, Summer Mac, Paula Red, and Zestar apples, as well as blackberries and peaches.
New York state on average produces 29.5 million bushels of apples annually, according to the New York Apple Association -- a production than ranks New York second in the nation, behind only the state of Washington. Michigan generally ranks third. There are about 600 commercial growers in the state.
It's not a coincidence that all are northern states.
"Apples are kind of a cool weather crop, and they seem to do well in rainy conditions," Darrow said. "The Northeast is wonderful, wonderful apple country. The conditions are really perfect for growing apples."
The Capital Region sits between the Champlain Valley and the Hudson Valley, which are each among the top apple-growing regions in the state, though there are also dozens of productive orchards in the western part of the state, according to state Apple Association information.
Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting orchards will produce 10.6 billion pounds of apples, an increase of about 4 percent from last year.