Bushels Of Fun

Apple Orchards offer productive fall foliage; lessons in hybrid development

Think an apple is just an apple? Not true! As sci-fi as it may sound, thanks to advances the past couple of decades in crop science, apples have entered the designer realm. While varieties such as McIntosh and Red Delicious, which have been around for over a hundred years, are still popular, it's the new hybrids that are the up-and-coming superstars.

Designed to bring out the most desirable traits of two apples, hybrids lend versatility to the apple world. For example, many apples these days are being developed to be more bruise-resistant (Spartan, for one), mainly to allow for increases in productivity during picking season. But this trait is also beneficial for parents who put apples in their children's lunch boxes.

One of the newer local hybrids is the Honey Crisp, a honey-sweet, super-crisp cross between the Macoun (a firm apple-- itself a Jersey Black and McIntosh cross) and Honey Gold (an insanely popular sweet, crisp apple) that was developed by the University of Minnesota.

Other advances include apples with longevity on their side; most varieties can stay fresh for up to several weeks in the fridge, but some (Keepsake, Regent) can even last three to four months--an admirable trait considering some summer fruits like raspberries or strawberries tend to grow mold before you even get them home. Other neat varieties include apples that take longer to brown (Cortland, Redcort) making them ideal for salads, apples that are mostly or completely acid-free (Jonafree, Redfree), and even trees that are shorter, making them height-friendly for children and adults wary of ladders.

Which makes this a tidy little place to suggest that the tastiest apples of all are the ones you pick yourself, on a trip outside the confines of the city in fresh air. In addition to having ready access to an astonishing variety of apples--pick a couple of each and conduct a home tasting--Twin Cities area you-pick orchards offer great foliage and a range of family-friendly activities (it's not an apple orchard unless there's a petting zoo or maze of some sort).

 

EMMA KRUMBEE'S APPLE ORCHARD
501 E. South St., Belle Plaine
952.873.4334
www.emmakrumbees.com

This 45-acre orchard offers over 15 different varieties with 6,000 dwarf apple trees for easy picking. Some of the more unique types that should be available this season include the Jonafree (a dessert-type apple), Empire (a mildly tart and juicy hybrid of Red Delicious and McIntosh), Macoun (aromatic and durable), and the all-purpose Redcort. While wandering the area you can explore the Tipi maze, petting zoo, live music, and pumpkin patch. Emma Krumbee's also features a scarecrow festival, with over 100 handcrafted scarecrows on display throughout the orchard. The apple orchard is open while supplies last from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily through October 31. Be sure to call the crop hotline at 952.873.3006 for ripening dates and availability.

 

AFTON APPLE ORCHARD
14421 S. 90th St., Hastings
651.436.8385
www.aftonapple.com

This 190-acre farm offers 11 different types of apples growing on shorter trees for easy picking, including Sweet 16 (very sweet and crisp), Spartan (a solid, dark apple), and Connell Red-Fireside (large, red, sweet). Not to be missed is the upcoming Apple Festival (October 9 and 10), which features cider pressing demonstrations, face painting, hayrides, and more. Also onsite is a 10-acre corn maze, comprised of three mazes of varying difficulty. If you make it through all three you've probably covered around six miles of ground! You can even try your luck in the evening--the maze is open Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday. Several other crops are available for purchase at the orchard, including red, yellow, and pink raspberries (usually available through mid-October or until the first freeze), pumpkins, squash, and decorative corn. Afton Apple Orchard is open daily through the end of October from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

MINNETONKA ORCHARDS
6530 Cty. Rd. 26, Minnetrista
763.479.6530
www.minnetonkaorchards.com

This orchard opened in 1976 when the Schaper family planted its first trees. Today the orchard has grown beyond a small family affair, with over 2,600 trees yielding 13 different apple varieties. Early-October varieties will most likely include Haralson (tart, firm, and great for pies), Honey Gold (ideal for fresh eating), and Regent (a bright red pinstriped dessert apple developed in Minnesota). Other crops available in October include winter squash and pumpkins. Although the petting zoo, hayrides, corn maze, and apple barn are open and available throughout the week, weekends at Minnetonka Orchards are even more eventful with face painting, clowns, and live music ranging from jazz to folk to bluegrass. Kiddie activities grow spookier around the weekends of the 23rd and 31st with a graveyard trail and pumpkin-carving contests. Minnetonka Orchards are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in October, then 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in November. Call the apple information line at 763.479.3191 for confirmation on which apples will be available for picking.

 

FALL HARVEST ORCHARD
345 Cty. Rd. 30, Delano
763.972.3894
www.fallharvestorchard.com

While Fall Harvest Orchard experienced some hail damage this year, there are still plenty of yummy apples to be had. Of the 15 varieties the orchard offers, early- and mid-October crops include Fireside, Honey Gold, Connel Red (a Fireside variation), and Keepsake (a great eating apple). Other crops include squash, decorative corn, gourds, brown eggs, and pumpkins. One of the unique things about Fall Harvest is that it is actually a small, working farm, so children can interact with animals beyond the scope of the petting zoo by helping with feedings or collecting eggs from the hen house. Children will also delight in the baby piglets, kittens, ducks, and hens that roam free. Fall Harvest is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. until mid-October and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from mid-October to mid-November.

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