Apple Picking 101: 12 Tips for Fall Orchard Visits

Hand-pick some old-fashioned fun by spending a day at an apple orchard. Make this autumn ritual part of your family’s fall traditions.

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Apple With Fall Color

Apple With Fall Color

A beautiful golden apple glows against a backdrop of a blazing red sugar maple in full fall finery.

Photo by: Benjamin A. Sage, Sage’s Apples and Ransom Sage Farm

Benjamin A. Sage, Sage’s Apples and Ransom Sage Farm

Fall is apple picking time, and it’s one activity everyone in your family will enjoy. Why? Because apple picking is about more than harvesting a bumper crop of crunchy, juicy apples. A trip to the orchard is an easy memory-making outing that blends fun, fresh air and tasty fruit—surrounded by stunning autumn scenery. What’s not to love?

Put apple picking on your family’s fall to-do list. You won’t regret it. Use our tips to make the most of your day at the orchard.

Choose Your Orchard

Research local orchards online, considering location and growing methods. Orchards usually grow their apples using conventional, organic or low spray methods. If this is important to you, ask the grower for details. Don’t forget to ask what types of apples (pie, fresh eating, sauce, etc.) are ripe when. Inquire about other activities the orchard might offer, such as a mini farm and/or petting zoo, farm-based jungle gym (think straw bales and tractor tires), hayride or corn maze. Also find out hours, restroom facilities and if food and drink are available for purchase (or can be brought in).

Dig Into Apples

Decide ahead of time what you’ll do with the apples you’ll be picking. Make plans for pies, frozen pie filling, sauce or jam based on what your family craves. For younger children, check out apple-related library books and talk about how apples grow. Kids are curious and will have lots of ideas about what they’ll find at the orchard. You could even plan an orchard scavenger hunt as part of your adventure.

Get the Timing Right

In much of the country, different apple types ripen all the way from late August to October. Go earlier in the season for thinner crowds. Don’t postpone your trip too long, though, because picking season often stops well before ripening does. Many orchards are only open for u-pick during a certain window. Once you choose your day, go early or late in the day to avoid crowds. If you’re going with little ones in tow, early morning is probably better. You can pack a picnic lunch and let everyone drift off to sleep on the car ride home.

Dog With Apples

Dog With Apples

Before taking your dog along to a local u-pick orchard, be sure to call first. Some orchards welcome dogs on leashes, while others don’t. If you do take your favorite pooch, don’t forget to take the necessary gear to clean up after him.

Photo by: Ogden Gigli for Massachusetts Office of Tourism

Ogden Gigli for Massachusetts Office of Tourism

Invite Friends

Apple picking is best done with family and friends. This is one activity where the more, the merrier. Many hands do make light work, and if you’re after a bushel or three of apples, the more kids you have along, the more apples you’ll bring home. Ask the orchard before taking the family dog. Some orchards allow dogs on leashes as long you promise to clean up after your pup.

Review the Rules

Give your family a heads-up about what to expect at the orchard. This is most important with younger children. Discuss safety tips, especially if the orchard has ladders out for picking. Remind everyone that it’s not okay to shake trees to get apples. That just dumps lots of ripe fruit on the ground, bruising it. Remind kids to pick only what they’ll eat.

Dress for the Day

Fall weather is tricky—hot one minute, chilly the next. Dress everyone in layers so you can peel and add as needed. Forget fashionable footwear; practicality should rule the day for this outing. Skip sandals (you’ll be in unmowed areas). If it’s been rainy, the orchard may well be wet and muddy. Pack rain boots just in case to keep feet dry.

Apples Trees With Apples

Apples Trees With Apples

Traditional apple orchards offer excellent photo opportunities, like this beautiful apple-laden allee. Take an annual family photo during your trip to a u-pick farm. Pictures among the apples will quickly become family favorites.

Photo by: Washington Apple Commission

Washington Apple Commission

Pack a Picnic

Take something to nibble, whether it’s snacks, a full lunch or just a loaf of bread and chunk of cheese. Apple picking builds an appetite, no matter your age. One thing to avoid taking is sweet caramel dip. In autumn, that’s just yellow jacket bait.

Plan Orchard Transport

Take a wagon or cart to haul tired youngsters and picked apples. It’s hard to maneuver a stroller in most orchards. If you have babies in hand, choose a body sling or backpack carrier. Most orchards appreciate it if you take your own bags to carry picked apples.

Set the Pace

Before you get to the orchard, map out a plan of attack. With young children, it’s usually best to let them explore and play before you tackle serious apple picking. Once you start picking, it goes really quickly. You’ll be surprised how fast you gather a large amount of apples, so pace yourself.

Fuji Apple On Tree

Fuji Apple On Tree

‘Fuji’ apple has been around since the 1930s, when it was first developed in Japan. A true heirloom apple, ‘Fuji’ offers crisp, sweet flesh. It’s a great choice for fresh eating and cooking. Choose ‘Fuji’ for a no-sugar applesauce—its sweet flesh doesn’t need sugar.

Photo by: Washington Apple Commission

Washington Apple Commission

How to Pick Apples

Orchard owners typically direct you to trees with apples ripe for the picking. Ask owners how they prefer you pick. Some suggest a gentle twist and pull; others prefer a lift-up-and-over style. These techniques help preserve the tree’s ability to fruit in future years. Avoid pulling hard or shaking branches. Pick apples that are slightly underripe (they’ll be more tart) to ensure prolonged storage. Aim to keep stems on apples—that helps the fruit store longer.

Handle With Care

One bad apple does spoil the whole bunch, so handle picked fruit carefully. Place it gingerly into your bag or box. Assign apples for sauce to young children. Reserve fresh eating varieties for folks who can treat apples with gentle care. If apples are wet, it’s best to dry them as soon as you can after picking. Take care not to wipe off the white bloom, though. That actually helps fruit to last.

Say Cheese

An apple orchard is the perfect place to take family photos. If this is an annual event for your gang, take an annual photo. It’s the ideal way to memorialize all the fun—forever.

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