Plenty of pickings for growers

Local orchards work to fill orders for Apple Festival in Harford County

October 01, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Alan Walsh grabbed wooden crates from the back of his pickup truck and walked to a row of trees thick with red and gold apples.

Working quickly, he plucked Jonagold apples from the branches, able to grasp four per hand before dropping them into a bushel crate.

"Apple-picking goes pretty quick," Walsh, manager of Wilson Mill Orchard in Darlington, said as he plucked. "You don't even have to think about it; you just pick 'em."

It's a good thing, too, because Walsh and others at Wilson Mill have been working to fill a formidable order: 10,000 apples for the 20th annual Darlington Apple Festival on Saturday.

The orchard is one of two locally that provide apples for the event - which draws as many as 70,000 visitors - but Wilson Mill is the only orchard that has been supplying apples since the festival's inception in 1987.

"One of the many reasons they have kept the apple festival going for so long is to support the local orchards," said Henry Holloway, owner of Wilson Mill. "So it seems only right that the orchards continue to bring the apples."

The festival, a fundraising event for local charities and nonprofit organizations, features an outdoor stage with all-day entertainment, crafters, flowers and produce, food and other activities, such as an apple-pie contest.

The connection between Wilson Mill and the festival began with the orchard's previous owner, but it almost ended when Holloway purchased the 100-acre property in 2000. He was looking for a larger house for his family, not a piece of land to farm. He considered removing the apple trees.

"I didn't know anything at all about growing apples," the 47-year-old Darlington native said. "The majority of what I knew about apples, I learned while attending the apple festival each year."

However, a previous caretaker of the orchards persuaded Holloway to give it a try.

In 2001, after spending about $10,000 on improvements to the orchards, Holloway harvested his first crop and continued the orchard's tradition by hauling a flatbed trailer full of apples to the festival.

In the meantime, Holloway has worked on learning the basics of caring for the trees, identifying different varieties and harvesting. He has 13 varieties for sale and has been adding new ones.

The most popular new variety is honeycrisp, a red-and-gold apple with a honey-like flavor.

"A new variety of apple is like a drug. You either get used to it, or addicted to it," Holloway said.

Picking apples for the festival begins in August, when Holloway gathers his family in the orchard to help.

Some apples picked early in the harvest season are stored at 38 degrees, Holloway said.

"They will keep indefinitely that way."

The other local orchard that supplies apples for the festival is Sweet Aire Farm. Its owner, Arthur Johnson, is one of the founders of the festival, and chaired the event from 1987 to 1989.

Johnson plans to bring three dozen varieties of apples to the event, including a selection of organic apples that he grows in his 300-tree orchard.

At times, the organic apples are a tough sell, Johnson said, because although they taste great, their appearance is not as alluring.

"People just have to be willing to try one, and once they do, most people like them," he said.

With the apple-growing industry in Maryland in decline, participating in an event such as the Darlington festival is important for local orchard owners, said Andrew Lohr, an operator of Lohr's Orchards in Churchville.

"Apple orchards are declining in the county due to development," said Lohr, 66, who provides apple cider sold at the festival by nonprofits. "But being involved with anything that brings attention to apples, helps your apple sales."

Festivals during harvest seasons are becoming popular among orchard owners, said Kay Rentzel, director of the U.S. Apple Association, a nonprofit organization in Vienna, Va. Others have been at it a long time.

"We have some festivals in the U.S. that are so successful that they are celebrating their 75th or 100th anniversaries," she said.

The following is a list of the types of apples grown in Maryland:

Empire - a McIntosh apple crossed with Red Delicious. Excellent for snacks, desserts and snacks.

Fuji - These apples are very firm and unusually sweet. They have red and green stripes and were originally from Japan.

Jonathan - Moderately tart. Delicious for snacking and cooking.

Golden Delicious - Sweet. Excellent for eating fresh and cooking.

Red Delicious - Sweet and juicy. Best for eating fresh.

Stayman - Firm, rich flavor and mildly tart. Great all-purpose apple.

McIntosh - Juicy and slightly tart.

York - Crisp, firm and tart. Excellent for eating fresh and cooking.

Gala - Sweet and flavorful with orange-striped skin and yellow flesh. Good for snacks and salads.

Ginger Gold - Early season. Sweet, juicy and firm.

Rome - Firm and slightly tart. Good for baking and cooking.

Jonagold - Blend of tart Jonathan and sweet Golden Delicious. One of the world's most preferred varieties.

Mutsu - Sweet and juicy, very firm texture and crisp white flesh. Excellent for eating fresh and cooking.

[Compiled by the Maryland Apple Promotion Board]

Apple Fest

What:

The 20th annual Darlington Apple Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Darlington, off Route 161.

Events:

The festival will feature an outdoor stage with all-day entertainment, crafters exhibiting and selling their work, and produce and flowers such as apples, pumpkins and mums. There also will be a children's area with games, pony rides, scarecrow stuffing and hayrides. Food offerings will include pit beef, barbecue, apple fritters and Maryland crab soup.

Fees:

Admission is free; parking is $3. Parking signs will be posted. Shuttle buses will carry visitors to the festival area from the parking lots. Handicapped parking will be available.

Restrictions:

No pets other than handicapped-assistance animals are allowed.

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