The crowds have dwindled, only a handful of pickers are still at work, and the apple trees are mostly stripped of fruit. But there are still plenty of apples to be had, if you haven’t made your fall trip to the orchard salesrooms in Gays Mills.
“We have had a really good season,” said West Ridge Orchard owner Gaylon O’Neal. “We’re very happy with the outcome.”
O’Neal said the orchard still had 22 varieties for sale in the salesroom as of Monday, but anyone wanting an heirloom variety would need to stop in soon since he was down to a handful of bagged apples for varieties such as Winesap and Wolf River.
“We still have a good supply of Cortlands, McIntosh, Honeycrisp, and the other popular varieties,” O’Neal noted.
O’Neal said this year was the best for sales since they bought the orchard eight years ago, which he credited to two factors: ideal weather and location! With the harvest over for the orchard, and all the pumpkins sold, the orchardist plans to close his doors for the season in two weeks.
West Ridge wasn’t the only orchard to have a stellar year. All of the orchards reported excellent retail sales. For the orchards with a larger portion of sales devoted to retail, rather than wholesale, this has been a big benefit.
“This was probably our best year,” said Terre Van Haren, manager at Hillcrest. “It was incredibly busy.”
As with the other orchards, the Hillcrest’s crop was of average size in quantity. Packing was winding down and only Golden Delicious were left for the remaining pickers to finish harvesting.
Hillcrest will close the salesroom during November, reopening on weekends the day after Thanksgiving for Christmas tree sales. In the meantime, they have a plentiful supply of squash, pumpkins, and cranberries to sell alongside the apples.
Turkey Ridge also reported a bump in retail sales.
“This was a great year for retail,” said owner Faye Welsh. “We grew 20-percent this year.”
The organic orchard still has Enterprise apples left along with some cider, grass-fed pork, and apple cider vinegar.
Fleming Orchard just finished picking apples last Tuesday and still has 15 varieties on the shelf.
“The crop possibly wasn’t as heavy as usual, but the quality was really good,” reported owner Jim Fleming.
The salesroom still had a good supply of the late apples such as the Golden Delicious, Empire, JonaGolds, as well as popular apples such as the Honeycrisp, McIntosh, and Cortland.
The salesroom will remain open through the weekend.
Hillcrest and Kickapoo Orchards were the only two with pickers still in the trees this week.
Kickapoo has the largest variety of apples, with some of the best storage apples still being picked.
The best storage apple of all in many people’s opinion, the Empire, has just started, according to Kickapoo Orchard’s Julie Meyer.
The crew has also just finished the Harrelson harvest. Additionally, Granny Smiths, Braeburn and Fuji are still being picked. On the shelves and in the bins are Cortlands, Macs and Greenings.
“It was a good year, but I would not say a great year,” Meyer said of the season. “Retail customer-wise it was awesome.”
But at the wholesale level, the orchard was somewhat impacted by a season that was 10 to 14 days later than usual and was competing with a large supply of apples from other growers in the marketplace, Meyer explained.
With pickers still working this week, Kickapoo took the unusual step of laying off the packing shed crew, while apples were still being picked. Meyer said the remaining apples will be packed by some pickers and other staff.
Kickpaoo Orchard will be open until the day before Thanksgiving.
Sunrise Orchard wrapped up harvesting on October 21 and reported their storage facilities were full.
“I’m guessing the crop was about like last year,” said Allen Teach, one of the family owners. “We have a great team, so things have gone smoothly.”
The packing line is still working to sort and bag apples and the display in the salesroom is still full, with Honeycrisp, Empire, Red Delicious, Harrelson, Cameo, Golden Delicious and Snow Sweet still available.
Sunrise stays open for sales the latest of the orchards. Their salesroom is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving Day) through November and then 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays until December 21.
All of the orchards offer additional items that make great Christmas gifts for the early shopper. You can find jams, jellies, honey, soup and baking mixes, and more. Kickapoo also offers a selection of beers, wines, and brandy.
And if your looking for a tasty treat to while you browse, Kickapoo, Sunrise, Fleming and West Ridge offer bakery items.
There’s still time to buy apples. Stop in the orchards this weekend and you’ll find a great selection, a relaxed atmosphere and friendly people. Shop the orchards in Gays Mills, you won’t regret it.