What do autumn air and fresh apples have in common? Beauty and crispness. And both are available in abundance in the Piedmont.
It’s commonly acknowledged our region possesses one of the loveliest landscapes in the nation. Verdant pastures, dense forests, rolling hills and clear steams are all framed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
And then there’s the apples.
Virginia is the sixth largest apple-producing state with some two dozen varieties of the red orb to choose from. By the time Thomas Jefferson had retired to his beloved Monticello he had planted more than 1,000 fruit trees on his “little mountain,” many of them apple trees.
Today, there are more than 250 commercial growers in the Old Dominion tending 18,000 acres of apple trees. Virginia exports its apples to more than two dozen states and 20 countries. Much of the crop is made into apple juice, apple butter, apple sauce and apple cider; both sweet and hard.
To the good fortune of local residents, the majority of the apple crop is grown in the northwest section of our state. That’s also called our backyard. Seven counties in the region account for 8 million bushels annually, or 89 percent, of the entire state crop.
Chasing down a couple bags of fresh apples is as easy as backing out of your driveway. And for a fun and tasty family event, it’s difficult to find a better use of a day off.
This spring and summer will go down in the record books as one of the wettest in years. Nonetheless, local orchards have worked diligently to produce a good crop of apples.
The rainy challenges began early in the season. Since bees don’t fly in the rain, pollination was affected to some degree. During the growing portion of an apple’s life too much water affects the cell division of the fruit; a balanced amount of water and sun are ideal.
Mold and fungus are also problematic for fruit-bearing trees. Nonetheless, all of these obstacles have been largely met, and there is plenty of tasty red fruit available. Now is the time to take advantage of the orchardists’ hard labor.
Apples ripen at different times depending on the variety. Early-maturing varieties include Honeycrisp, Paula Red and Jonagold. Deeper into the season you’ll find Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Rome and many more hanging heavy on the trees.
While there are numerous opportunities for apple-picking throughout Northern Virginia, four nearby orchards are located in the Delaplane and Markham area: Hartland Orchard, Hollin Farms, Stribling Orchard and Valley View Farm.
In Rappahannock County, four more apple farms offer getaways in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains: High Places Orchard, Jenkins Orchard, Muskrat Farms and Williams Orchard.
Stribling Orchard is one of the oldest farms in the area dating to 1812 with the sixth generation Stribling family tending the fruit. The family recently finished renovation of the 200-year-old farm house and now lives on the property full-time.
“We have an amazing group of family and friends that help us during the season, which runs from July to the beginning of November,” said Stacia Stribling, who is an education professor at George Mason University. Her husband Rob works for Northup Grumman.
The 45-acre farm produces peaches and apples, but 35 of the acres are devoted to apple growing. There are some 25 different varieties growing on site.
“Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji, Crispin, Nittany, Granny Smith and York are the majority of our September and October apples,” said Stacia Stribling.
And what advice would Stribling give folks headed out for a day of picking happiness?
“People who are not into farming think apples on the ground are not any good. There’s a lot of tremendous fruit lying on the ground.”
Fruit that reaches its peak of sweetness contains the most sugar and will fall naturally to the ground, signaling it’s time to take a bite. If such apples have recently fallen, they can be among the best fruit.
“I always tell people not to forget to look down,” she adds.
Stribling also cautions visitors to take the season’s rains into consideration and wear boots when walking through the orchard. She points out picking in a light rain has its advantages. “It’s actually quite refreshing. If you are properly dressed, it’s a lot better than picking on a hot day.
“Being in the peach and apple business is a lot of hard work but we love it. For us, one of the rewards is getting to see and talk with our customers. Many tell us they came here with their children and now they come back and introduce us to their grandchildren,” said Stribling.
The family enjoys that their farm is a place for generations to come and re-visit.
“We’re pleased to offer that to the public. There are lot of memories made here. We love being part of that environment,” said Stribling.
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