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Pickin' time: south Washington County apple orchards in full swing

The Pickens family spent a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon picking apples at Whistling Well Farm in Denmark Township. Annamarie carries a bag of apples and is joined by her father and her son. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner1 / 4
No ladders are needed to pick the apples at Afton Apple after a hayride into the orchard. Drivers indicate which areas are ready for picking. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner2 / 4
The Afton Apple corn maze (pictured from a plane) this year is called "We Salute Our Veterans" and has six miles of mazes with three levels of difficulty including beginners. The maze opens Sept. 21. Submitted photo3 / 4
Above--Fall raspberries are ready for picking at Afton Apple Orchard. Bushes, in the warm dry weather, are irrigated so berries are available every day. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner4 / 4

Children who tell parents that they found stars inside apples aren't telling stories -- they saw them while on a tour of Afton Apple Orchard or other orchards in apple-rich south Washington County.

Instead of cutting an apple down the middle, cut one horizontally and you'll see a star shape holding the seeds, as guides do with school groups that are visiting local orchards as their picking season picks up.

Afton Apple in Denmark Township and other area orchards are open with apples and pumpkins for sale. Some also have raspberries for picking.

It was touch and go in April when frost hit local orchards but it only affected early maturing apples such as Paula Reds that are already sold out, according to Afton Apple owners Cindy and Frank Femling.

Afton Apple has a bumper crop, however, of Haralson, Regent and Honeycrisp apples, according to Cindy Femling.

At Whistling Well Farm, owner Charlie Johnson said some of his apple trees took a beating during the late frost. It resulted in small crops of Paula Reds, Zestar and Chestnut crab apples. It didn't affect Sweetangos, the newest apple, which is nearly sold out, he said last week. Next year, he plans to plant 1,000 more Sweetango trees.

Johnson's apples are also being bought by School District 833 Nutrition Services to serve in cafeterias as part of a program to offer more locally grown produce.

Honeycrisp apples aren't available for picking by the public at any of the orchards but are sold in orchard stores. Growing and picking one of the public's favorite apples for maximum flavor is tricky, Cindy Femling said.

They need extra calcium, she said, and must be picked during early morning hours. They should also sit for a day or more at room temperature before they are chilled.

People who are looking to buy a specific kind of apple should call the orchard where they intend to buy them because apples are ripening from one to two weeks earlier than usual, growers said.

Femling's favorite apples are Regent and Haralson. They are good for pies and other cooked apple treats, she said.

Fall raspberries also are ready for picking at orchards who feature them.

Afton Apple's corn maze opens next week and, like the year they had a Yellow Ribbon maze, has a "We Salute Our Veterans" theme. Many former and current employees are veterans, Femling said.

Afton Apple's petting zoo and play area will be open with the addition of a "spider web," and a "tube swing."

There will be fireworks on Oct. 6, she said, but only if there is no danger of fire.

Area orchards

  • Afton Apple Orchard, at 14421 90th St. in Denmark Township, features a corn maze that opens on Sept. 21, and has six miles of trails for three levels of difficulty including beginners. There are also mini mazes, including the "no left turn" maze. The maze, which has a snack shack, is open from 4-8 p.m. on Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Remaining daylight hours are available for tours and large groups. Admission is $9 for age 11 and up, $7 for ages 2 to 10 and kids under 2 are admitted free. For more information, call 651-436-8385.
  • Whistling Well Farm, 8973 St. Croix Trail,, has apples, pumpkins, squash and country crafts. Fall ornamentals and corn stalks are also sold in addition to dig-your-own fall mum plants. For more information, call 651-998-0301.
  • McDougal's Apple Junction, 14325 110th St.,, has no you-pick apples but they are for sale in their store. Currently offering Sweetango, Paula Red and Chestnut crab apples. Dig-your-own mums or buy them potted. There is a playland, observation tower, farm animals, duck races and refreshments. For more information, call 651-480-4701.
  • Fisher's Croix Farm Orchard, 12971 St. Croix Trail,, has apples, both you-pick and picked and for sale in the apple store where there are other fall items. There is a corn maze, raspberries, pumpkins, farm animals, train and straw mountain. Not open Monday or Tuesday. For more information, call 651-459-4752.
  • Carpenter Nature Center, 12805 St. Croix Trail,, has apples, pick-your-own raspberries and pumpkins. Wildflower honey is also available in addition to 10 miles of walking trails. For more information, call 651-437-4359.

An Apple Festival, with special activities, will be held the first two weekends in October and some orchards are extending the festival to all October weekends.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600