MALTA – While sitting on dad Andrew’s shoulders Sunday, 1-year-old Landen Burza happily munched on an apple among the trees at Jonamac Orchard.
“It’s not every day they get to pick their own food,” said mom, Kayla Burza, of DeKalb, referring to Landen and his 5-year-old sister, Lilly. Burza added that her son, normally a picky eater, seemed smitten with the fresh apple.
Apple picking began this weekend at the Malta orchard, which also offers a barnyard play area for children, a corn maze, country store and bakery and a pumpkin patch open in the fall.
But this year’s apple crop may not last long.
Jenna Hance, who manages apple picking at Jonamac Orchard, said 50 to 60 percent of this year’s crop survived the trying weather conditions.
The apple trees became confused by the warm days in March and began to bloom early.
But frost and cold days in April killed some of the tree’s blossoms, she said.
Jonamac used a frost fan to circulate heat from peripheral fires and pull warm air over the trees, Hance said. To cope with this summer’s drought, a drip irrigation system has been used and has prevented the apples from being too small.
Picking is limited this season, Hance said. Because of the strange weather, many varieties of apples were ready about two weeks earlier than normal this year – in late August instead of the first or second week of September.
The orchard will be open to apple pickers until the crop is gone and the available varieties change, Hance said. Rows of trees were marked with blue ribbons Sunday to note which apples were ripe for picking.
Hance said Jonamac doesn’t spray pesticides or fungicides late in the season, and many people tried the apples as they picked them Sunday.
Varieties available for picking Sunday included Gala, Jonamac and Cortland. Couple Christina Redel and Adam Grubbs, both of
DeKalb, focused on choosing Gala apples, which they like for the variety’s sweetness.
They said picking apples themselves is a better experience than simply selecting a bag of apples at the grocery store.
“You know what you’re looking for,” Grubbs said of searching for the fruit on the trees.
Rachael and Joe Conley of Hampshire brought their three children – Kevin, Katie and Kelsey – to the orchard to pick apples and enjoy the children’s activities.
Rachael said apple picking allows the family to take part in a fun activity that’s out of the norm.
The experience continues at home, where the family uses the apples to make apple crisp or apple pie and gets the children involved.
“It’s kind of like getting excited for fall,” Rachael said.
The orchard saw a decent crowd before rain arrived Saturday, Hance said, and staff hoped for a strong turnout through the weekend.
Many families came out Sunday morning to take part in barnyard activities or buy apple doughnuts at the bakery.
“People come out here to get the feel of being on a farm,” she said. And apple picking remains popular because “it gets you back to your roots,” she added.
“There’s just something about being that much closer to the process of growing the fruit,” Hance said. “You can’t get any fresher than that.”