KENTS HILL — It will be just like old times with the pick-your-own apples at Kents Hill Orchard reopening after a three-year hiatus.

John Harker, former director of production development at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, took over management of the trees for Henry and Corinne Drake, who retired.

The stand of stooping apple trees sits just behind The Apple Shed Bakery at Kents Hill.

For a while the Drakes’ son Terry managed the orchard, but for the past three years, it was left fallow.

Harker, who leased the orchard from the Drakes after he returned to Maine full time last year, walked into the orchard at midweek, plucked a McIntosh from a limb and examined it.

“It’s probably still very, very green,” he said. “It’s coloring up good, though, and should be in full color here by Sept. 9.”

That’s the day the orchard will reopen for those who like to twist their own apples from the branches.

PAULA REDS, THEN MANY OTHERS

“You can tell they’re ready when the seeds start to turn brown,” Harker observed.

The orchard holds a variety of different apples.

Corinne Drake, 82, who ran Kents Hill Orchard with her husband, Henry, for years and founded the bakery in 1979, listed the apples still growing in the 3-acre section that will be available for picking.

The early apples are the Paula Reds, popular with people who want the first of the new crop.

Then the McIntosh, the Cortlands, the Galas, the Senshus, followed by the later apples, the Red Delicious, the Macouns and the Honey Crisps.

It comes down to personal preferences for tart or sweet apples.

When she made her apple pies for the bakery, Drake preferred the “perfect” combination of Cortland and McIntosh applies.

“The Cortland is perfect for baking because it doesn’t fall apart,” Drake said as she stood in bakery’s driveway looking over at the orchard.

“It keeps its shape. Mixed with the McIntosh, it makes a juice.”

She offered to help pick the Paula Reds, telling Harker, “Don’t wait too long; they’ll be on the ground.”

On Wednesday, Harker and his daughter Erin Fife presented Drake with a framed sketch of the Kents Hill Orchard logo, an image of a split red and green apple with a couple of seeds inside.

“Thank you. You deserve a hug,” Drake said to Fife.

Fife, who lives in Concord, Massachusetts, had worked two seasons at the orchard and bakery when she was a teen. She credited her husband, Brian, with redoing the logo.

“We had a lot of fun with it,” she said.

Henry Drake, 83, who ran a paper-making machine before deciding to work with apples full time, was a self-taught apple grower. Corinne Drake said the couple acquired their first orchard in 1963, moved to a second one in North Livermore in 1970 before taking on Kents Hill Orchard in 1975. Henry Drake retired about seven years ago.

PROTECTED FARMLAND

“He knew where the first apple maggot was going to show up and he was right,” Harker said, explaining that he dealt with pests by spraying, following the Integrated Pest Management Program guidelines issued by the University of Maine Extension Service.

Most of the Drakes’ land on the hilltop was sold to the Maine Farmland Trust in 2009 and later went to Brian and Lee Ann Baggott in a deal to protect farmland. It now produces field corn, sweet corn and other vegetables.

But the Drakes kept 15 acres for themselves, 3 of them holding the apple orchard.

On Wednesday, a clear day, a stiff breeze crossed the hilltop.

“You can see all the way to Sugarloaf and Mount Blue,” Harker said. “On a really good day, if you were to stand on top of the barn there,” he added, pointing to a nearby two-story barn, “you could see all the way to Mount Washington.”

LOTS OF EXPERIENCE

With a degree in horticulture, the experience gained in his former state job, and with his own wholesale cranberry plant business, Cranberry Creations in Mount Vernon, Harker had the know-how to do the pruning and keep the weeds under control so they didn’t drink up the precious rain.

“I am a friend of Henry and Corinne and could not see the orchard go downhill,” Harker explained.

Rod Cumber of Winthrop did the mowing.

“It’s different from doing the cranberries,” Harker said about working in the Drakes’ orchard. “The key for me about this whole thing is that they’ve been willing to keep this alive. They could have torn this whole thing down and put in a housing development. They’re hoping someone down the road will take it and run with it again. That’s not me.”

He anticipated a crop of about 800 bushels this year, with some of them available for sale at the bakery.

Trina and Bill Beaulier and their daughter Meggen have agreed to handle the sales during the weekdays, with Harker and his wife handling the Pick-Your-Own section on weekends.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

[email protected]