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Gays Mills orchards are open offering a fine crop of apples
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The apple harvest is definitely underway in the Gays Mills orchards—fruit is being picked and the salesrooms are open with a good selection of early apples.

By almost every account, it’s a good year, but probably not a bin buster. Most orchards have a good volume of Paula Reds and Zestars. There are plenty of other early varieties being offered as well. Some of those varieties include Red Free, Dandy Red, Dudley, Jersey  Mac and many more.

“It’s a beautiful crop,” according to Sunrise’s Lynne Teach. The largest local orchard is planning to get the Macintosh harvest into “full swing” this week. Sunrise will also offer fresh cider beginning this weekend and start making apple donuts and caramel apples everyday.

Weather worked out well for most of the crop, according to orchard owners including the timely arrival of some rain two weeks ago. The cool weather through most of the summer was also a blessing to the crop.

Teach described it as perfect climate this year for growing apples.

“We’re ready for fall,” Teach said last Friday as a few customers picked out some early apples. As you looked around the still filling salesroom located on Highway 171, you could just sense the apples and customers that would be filling the large space in the weeks to come. Sunrise is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

If Teach was ready for fall, Hillcrest’s Terre Van Haren had another feeling as the season resumed.

“It seems like we just finished,” Van Haren said. “We were packing apples last week and it just didn’t seem that long ago that we quit packing apples.”

The Hillcrest manager called it “a decent year” for apples. She noted the orchard lost around 200 trees to the severe winter—mostly Jonagolds. Hillcrest is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with lots of Paula Reds, Zestar and a few other varieties for sale. The orchard is planning to start the Macintosh harvest soon.

Kickapoo Orchard’s Andy Meyer was upbeat this Monday about the situation. However, he felt the apple crop might be a week or two behind schedule because of the late spring. The Kickapoo salesroom has lots of Paula Reds and Zestars available, along with a large variety of other early apples. Kickapoo is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Unlike Hillcrest, Meyer said Kickapoo did not suffer much damage to trees from the severe winter. However, the weather did hamper pruning and not every tree was pruned due to the deep snow and cold temperatures. Some of the varieties already on hand in the Kickapoo salesroom last weekend were Early Strawberry, Williams Pride, Sansa, Sunrise, Early Gold, Red Free Monark, Burgundy, Dudley, Duchess (an heirloom variety), Jersey Mac, Jersey Sweet and Stella.

Fleming Orchard’s Ruth Fleming was also happy with the beginning of the season. She said the orchard, like the others, had a good crop of Paula Reds and Zestars available along with other early varieties.

Fleming explained that Zestar came from the same Minnesota breeding program as the ever-popular Honey Crisp apple and shared many similarities in taste.

“It’s an excellent eating apple that some people think is as good or better than Honey Crisp,” Fleming said of the Zestar. “People are hungry for apples now and they’re all hungry for Honey Crisp, so this can tide them over for a couple of weeks until the Honey Crisp are ready.”

The veteran orchardist said she believes the appeal of the apples grown in the local Gays Mills orchards is their distinct flavor.

In addition to Zestars and Paula Reds, Fleming Orchard has some Greenings and the first Galas and Cortlands of the year.

Fleming’s salesroom is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Macs are expected soon and there will be more and more Cortlands at different stages of development hitting the shelves as well.

“The Honey Crisp will be along soon enough,” Fleming noted.

A few ridges away near the village of Mt. Sterling on Highway 171, West Ridge Orchard was also busy getting ready for the new season on Friday. The West Ridge salesroom is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

“It's a good crop,” Gaylon O’Neal said. “In fact, it’s the best crop we’ve had since we owned the orchard.”

O’Neal bought the orchard from Dick and Amy Heal in 2007.

Although the weather this spring and summer has been good for the West Ridge apple crop, the grapes suffered some damage in the severely cold winter and are down a little this summer, according to O’Neal.

West Ridge is expecting to add Melissa Sweet to the shelves this week with Macintosh to follow soon.

Starry Ridge Orchard, the pick-your-own operation on De La Mater Road, will open this Saturday, according to owner Bill Reinders. The orchard will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Starry Ridge expects to have Macintosh, Spartan and Cortland varieties available this weekend. The orchard supplies customers with all the equipment and packaging necessary to pick their own apples. In addition to the pick-you-own  option, picked apples are also available for purchase.

Although the apple harvest in Gays Mills has just gotten underway there is plenty of excitement and lots of fine fruit to be had….so take some time to visit the local orchards and enjoy the moment.