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U-pick apple orchards ripe for picking

Donna Thompson
Sentinel columnist
Posted 9/15/22

When it comes to apples, everyone has a favorite and when fall arrives in Central New York, residents are ready to head to farmers markets and farm stores to purchase them.

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U-pick apple orchards ripe for picking

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When it comes to apples, everyone has a favorite and when fall arrives in Central New York, residents are ready to head to farmers markets and farm stores to purchase them. Others aren’t satisfied with just buying them; they want to pick the apples themselves, and several area orchards cater to those who want to do just that.

North Star Orchards

Among them is North Star Orchards, located at 4741 Route 233, Westmoreland, where owner George Joseph already has some early varieties of apples available for purchase at the farm market and bakery, with the u-pick season scheduled to begin on Friday, Sept. 16.

Among the early varieties are Zestar.

“It’s one of the best early apples,” Joseph said. “It’s tangy and has a crunch to it. It has a sweet tart flavor. We like to add it to our cider.” He added that they also make and sell applesauce.

Once the u-pick season begins at North Star, the picking will be sequential as the different varieties of apples ripen, he explained. The McIntosh and Cortland apples will ripen in mid-September, followed by a mix of Empires, Macouns, and Galas. The orchard offers 20 different varieties of apples. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Over the years, we’ve developed more family-friendly orchards,” said Joseph. “We’ve planted low-profile, smaller trees.” That makes it easier for customers, even the shorter ones, to reach the apples they want to take home.

Customers purchase the size bag they plan to fill and can walk into the areas that will open in mid-September, he said. Later, when more fields open up, free wagon rides will take customers into the picking areas from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and on Columbus Day. Pumpkins will also be available for picking.

The wagon rides started years ago as an added attraction, said Joseph. A friend had draft horses that were used to pull the wagon. “But the horses wore out. Now we use three tractors.”

Asked if he sees many repeat customers, Joseph said many of the people who came picking as children are now bringing their kids to pick and telling them stories about picking at the orchards when they were young.

For more information, visit www.northstarorchards.com.

Middlefield Orchard

The u-pick apple season is underway at Middlefield Orchard, an agritourism farm located at 2274 State Highway 166, Cooperstown. Early apples — Pristine and Zestar — were available by late August for purchase or u-pick at the orchard.

“The Pristine is an early apple; it’s like a transparent and has a good flavor,” said owner Willie Bruneau. Another early variety is the Dandee Red. “It has a good color. People like it,” he said.

Those are among some 28 varieties of apple available at Middlefield.

A chart on the farm’s website, found at middlefieldorchard.com, lists the apple ripening schedule and uses for the different varieties, which range from familiar ones like McIntosh, Granny Smith and Northern Spy to not-so-familiar ones such as Blondee, Braestar and Arkansas Black.

“We get a lot of calls from the Utica area from people asking if we do u-pick on Honeycrisps,” Bruneau said, adding that the popular variety will be available when ripe for people who want to pick their own.

The 128-acre farm has been in business for 20 years, he said. 45 acres of that land is planted in fruit, with various seasonal u-pick opportunities available; ever-bearing raspberries are available now through October; another 45 acres is planted in vegetables; and the remainder is used for other purposes.

“We’re family-friendly,” he said, adding that fall offerings will include hay rides and a couple of corn mazes - one small and the other more challenging. “Families can come picnic and enjoy. We have a kitchen here.”

Middlefield Orchard is open Monday through Saturday, but closed on Sundays.

When asked about this year’s apple crop, Bruneau said the drought had initially slowed the growth of some apples, “but we’ve had some good rain now and the apples are sizing up. We’re picking now. We’ll have a lot of apples, more than we can just u-pick.”

Critz Farms

Juanita Critz, of Critz Farms, 3232 Rippleton Road, State Route 13 South, Cazenovia, also expects to have plenty of apples this year.

“We offer apple picking seven days a week,” she said, but added, “If you want to just pick apples, come during the week.”

On weekdays, customers can drive out to the picking areas. Pricing is by the bag, with pickers paying for the size bag they want to fill.

“We have traditional Central New York apples – Cortlands, McIntosh, Empire, Honeycrisp, Liberty, a little Gala and some Macouns,” said Critz, adding that people are eager for fall apples as soon as they turn the calendar page to September and start seeing cooler weather.”

The u-pick apple season has started, she said, although the pick-your-own agritourism farm will kick off its fall harvest Saturday, Sept. 17, with activities and events offered every weekend through Oct. 23.

“On weekends there’s an admission charge,” said Critz. The charge includes access to the apple orchard and more. “There’s lots going on. There’s entertainment on two stages, one for kids, one for adults. We have a corn maze – this year’s theme is Whale of a Good Time - animals, tractor rides out to picking areas. People who come on the weekend can see our antique cider press in operation. It’s more than 120 years old.” Cider is sold other days as well, but the press demonstration is only offered on the weekends. There is also a full cafe and food service offered on weekends.

She noted that the average stay for a weekend visitor is between two and five hours.

Members of one family with members in Rochester and Albany use the farm as their yearly meeting place.

Critz Farms has seen an evolution over the last 30 plus years, said Critz. “We started as a Christmas tree and pumpkin farm. In 2005 we added apples, and in 2007 we had our first crop.” The farm consists of 350 acres of crops, products, and woodlands.

For more information, visit www.critzfarms.com.

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