Take the children apple picking this fall

Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 11:14 a.m.
Apples clasped in her hands, a little girl runs through Johnston’s Orchards on the Branch Pond Road in North Ellsworth.
Apples clasped in her hands, a little girl runs through Johnston’s Orchards on the Branch Pond Road in North Ellsworth.
At Conant’s Orchard on Route 2 in Etna, juicy, sun-kissed McIntosh apples awaited harvest on Sunday, Sept. 23.
At Conant’s Orchard on Route 2 in Etna, juicy, sun-kissed McIntosh apples awaited harvest on Sunday, Sept. 23.
The hand-held tool called an “apple-picker” snags apples with a wire-framed basket. With a quick flick of a human wrist, the basket snips the apple’s stem and catches the dropping fruit.
The hand-held tool called an “apple-picker” snags apples with a wire-framed basket. With a quick flick of a human wrist, the basket snips the apple’s stem and catches the dropping fruit.
A mother photographs her daughter picking low-hanging apples at Johnston’s Orchards in North Ellsworth.
A mother photographs her daughter picking low-hanging apples at Johnston’s Orchards in North Ellsworth.
Apples await picking in a Bangor-area orchard.
Apples await picking in a Bangor-area orchard.

Start a family tradition this fall by taking the kids apple picking.

My grandfather, who operated MacKinnon’s Rockwall Farm in Brewer, had a few apple trees from which he never harvested apples to eat. We grandkids chewed on the small, sour green apples that grew on the tallest tree, and each fall we raked the dropped apples and tossed ’em into the compost pile.

So by age 10, I associated apples with a sour taste and rotting vegetables and lawn clippings.

Then Granddaddy took us applepicking at a Winterport, and hardly a fall has passed since then when I have not participated in such a fun activity.

And a few years ago we introduced our grandchildren to apple-picking.

Of all the food crops grown in Maine, apples are about the most fun for kids to harvest. Sure, children can pick peas and beans and toss muddy potatoes into barrels or bushel baskets, but that’s work, not fun.

Point a kid at an apple-laden tree: Now that’s fun. We climbed into the branches to pick the apples we could not reach from the ground, we learned to use an apple-picker, we ate crispy McIntosh apples reddened by the first frost, and we smuggled a few apples past the “bean counter” who collected the money.

We had fun then, our grandkids have fun now, and all kids should have fun when turned loose in a pick-your-own orchard.

Many Maine orchards gear their picking toward families and making the experience fun for everybody. The apple trees are often short, the apple-laden limbs often hang low where children can reach at least a few apples, and signs often identify which trees grow which varieties.

Some orchards provide four-wheeled carts or wagons ideal for hauling a child and a bushel basket, with the former sometimes inside the latter. Now considered passe, the venerable bushel basket has been supplanted by the plastic bag or cloth sack, but diehards still prefer the visual appeal of a bushel basket mounded and rounded to overflowing with delicious red apples.

Oh, and I mentioned “the apple-picker” earlier. Let me clarify this term: It refers to the tool, not the person, and today’s orchards often supply such a tool to customers unfamiliar with its use.

An apple-picker is a long wooden pole with a metal-ribbed basket fastened to one end. A human apple-picker extends the apple-picker tool until its basket surrounds an apple; when turned, the basket snaps the apple’s stem and catches the dropping fruit. It’s a great tool for reaching the allegedly fatter, redder apples that grow nearer the sun.

Or was that “fat and red” belief part of Granddaddy’s farm lore?

Anyways, the apple-picker tool is handy for older kids who want to help out and for folks picking more than a shopping bag full of apples. Granddaddy entrusted us with his polished apple-picker when we reached our early teens and tree climbing no longer appealed to us; let the older kids use this tool while their younger siblings raid the lower-hanging limbs.

Among the apple varieties that people can pick are Cortland, McIntosh (great to eat “raw” or as applesauce), Macoun, Empire, Northern Spy (works well in pies, I’m told), and Honeycrisp. There are other varieties, and each has its fans.

Some orchards offer additional activities for children, from an animal petting zoo and a squash or pumpkin patch to tractor rides (on towed trailers), a corn maze, and cold ice cream. Check with a particular orchard to learn about such amenities.

Among the pick-your-own apple orchards near Bangor are:

• Brewer: Harris Orchard on the Wiswell Road (989-3435).

• Charleston: Sullivan’s Orchard, 356 Puddledock Road (285-3572).

• Corinna: Mullis Orchard, 370 Dexter Road (278-3704 or www.mullisorchards.com).

• Dixmont: Maine-ly Apples, 372 Moosehead Trail (234-2043 or www.mainelyapples.com).

• Ellsworth: Johnston’s Orchards, Branch Pond Road (667-4028).

• Etna: Conant Orchards, 729 Stage Road (Route 2) (269-2241).

• Enfield: Robinson Orchard, 516 Lincoln Road (732-4346).

• Garland: Rollins Orchard, 287 Dexter Road (924-3504).

• Levant: Treworgy Family Orchards, 3876 Union St. (884-8689 or www.treworgyorchards.com).

• Newport: Rowe Orchards, Route 7 (368-4777).

• Plymouth: Mildel Farm, 1348 Moosehead Trail (257-2514).

Hillcrest Orchard, located at 560 Main Road, Winterport, sells pre-picked apples (223-4416).

For more information about Maine apples and orchards, log onto www.maineapples.org.

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