WESTMORELAND — With safety guidelines in place as they were for the blueberry picking season, North Star Orchards, 4741 Route 233, is gearing up and ready for those seeking the plumpest, juiciest apples this fall.
Owner George Joseph said orchard staff has already started picking early varieties of apples to have available at the market, which is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early varieties such as McIntosh and Cortlands will be available for U-pick starting Friday, Sept. 18. Going into the second week of U-pick, Macoun and Galas will be available, he said.
“On Saturday, Oct. 3, we’ll start our wagon rides, and we're making provisions to have more room on the wagons for distancing purposes,” Joseph said.
Mask wearing will be required while on the wagons, but pickers will be able to remove masks once out in the fields, as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. The orchard will run three wagons rides this year, as opposed to the usual two, the owner said.
“There are some guidelines the state has come up with, but everyone will pretty much have to adhere to the same things we have had in place,” Joseph said. “There will be stations to wash your hands” and other provisions in the restrooms.
Despite the pandemic, the owner said the orchard is preparing for a busy season.
“We’re anticipating a busy season, which goes in line with everything we’ve done this year,” said Joseph. “We’ve noticed an overall increase this year, because people just want to get out and do something."
On Friday, Sept. 11, North Star started pressing its cider, which will continue through the season. Soon after came the sweet aroma of cider doughnuts wafting through the bakery.
“We’re gearing up for all our fall activities,” Joseph said. “But instead of school groups this year, which we’re used to doing so many of, we’re trying to come up with something for people who home-school their kids or maybe we can get some families who want to do U-pick in small groups."
Joseph said he and his family and staff are open to offering a string of open hours where small groups can drive in and go pick apples in the field.
“Whether we give a talk every hour or two hours…we want to start developing” that opportunity “if we get requests from the community. Then we can have families who want to come in small groups…We plan on having the corn maze and pumpkins available as well,” he said.
Anyone interested in such an opportunity, especially those who are home-schooling, should contact the orchard at 315-853-1024.
And along with U-pick apples come October, wagon rides will also be available, under the same guidelines, for pumpkins. Joseph said both the apple and pumpkin crops were quite promising this year.
"Everything we’ve grown has been optimum,” he said. “I’ve never had a year like this — early on from tomatoes to our pumpkins. We’ve been thinning our apples just so the tree branches don’t break. We’ve gotten rain when no one else has had it, and our crops have done really well because of it."
In addition to apples, pumpkins and gourds, the North Star Orchards greenhouse will be filled with Halloween decorations, ornamental corn and mums in a variety of colors. The usual baked goods will also be available for purchase, such as cookies, fruit pies, brownies, muffins and apple cider cake.
As for offering customers the full, traditional fall experience at the orchard, the pandemic will not hamper everyone’s favorite autumn activities, Joseph said.
“We’ve been very adaptive all year, so there will be no surprises,” the owner said. “We have all done a walk-through so we know how to conduct the activities — we have our usual wagons and we will sanitize them as we go, and there will be signs in the fields to remind everyone to keep separated. Giving that there will be masks, we won’t allow dogs on the wagon."
Those who come to pick their fall apples will have the option of choosing from two different sized bags for purchase. Varieties available this season are McIntosh, Jonamac, Empire, Northern Spy, Ida Red and Golden Delicious. The one peck bag (11-12 pounds) is $12; while the 1/2 bushel bag (22-24 pounds) is $20. Bags will be sold in-store and at the kiosk.
U-pick apples and pumpkins will be available Saturday and Sunday in October, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. only starting Oct. 3. U-pick will be available the first three weeks of the month, weather permitting.
Orchards are within walking distance – about 200 yards — from the store. Apple picking schedule:
Week 1: McIntosh and Cortland.
Week 2: McIntosh, Cortland, Gala, Empire, Macoun, Spy Gold.