Julie Russell and her son, Billy Rollins, of Kennebunkport look for apples at Doles Orchard in Limington in September 2020. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

While an apple a day likely won’t keep the pandemic away, a visit to a Maine apple orchard would certainly be a welcome escape right now.

Apple orchards throughout the state are open now, or opening soon for the season. Many are planning more activities – wagon rides and live music, for instance – than last year, before vaccinations were available. But with COVID-19 cases still climbing, many are continuing to take safety measures.

These include keeping everything outdoors, as health experts say the virus is much less likely to spread outside. Some orchards are selling pre-selected bags of apples, so the fruit doesn’t have to be weighed and handled if it’s picked.

Many orchards are planning extra-special happenings on Sept. 12, which is Maine Apple Sunday. It’s the apple growers’ version of Maine Maple Sunday, when orchards and farms promote their wares and try to bring more people out. This year, especially, is a good time to appreciate all that the state’s apple orchards offer, including fresh air, fresh fruit and a glimpse at farm life.

Some Maine Apple Sunday events being planned include free doughnuts, wagon rides and a corn maze at Lemieux’s Orchard in Vassalboro, and free apple squares and prize drawings at Bailey’s Orchard in Whitefield. At Apple Acres Farm in Hiram, the plan is to have hard cider tastings and the farm’s famous Apple Blaster slingshot for target practice.

A branch laden with apples bends at Orchard Ridge Farm & Specialty Food Market in Gorham. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It’s easy to find what orchards around the state are doing any weekend this fall – including on Maine Apple Sunday – by going to the website of the Maine Pomological Society at maineapples.org. You can search orchards by county or by using a map of the state. The site has general information and history on each orchard, lists of the apple varieties they grow, and contact information. You can check on COVID safety measures, too, such as whether masks are recommended or if reservations are required.

By using the links to an orchard’s specific website, you can often find out what fruits are ready for picking on a specific day. Several orchards have other fruits for picking besides apples, including peaches in late summer, as well as pears, raspberries or blueberries. Many orchards say some apple varieties are coming in a few days to a week early this year because of the warmer-than-usual summer, so don’t wait too long to make plans.

Here’s what a few orchards are offering this fall for people looking to come out and get picking.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO … TREE?

At McDougal Orchards in Springvale, plans are in the works for a 9oth birthday party on Maine Apple Sunday for some of the orchard’s trees. About 30 of the 1,600 trees planted by Alva McDougal in 1931 are still bearing fruit. So to celebrate, the orchard is inviting the public to a picnic from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 12 and will give out cups of cider and doughnuts. They’re also looking for some musicians to provide music and might get a food truck to stop by. The orchard also has a wooded spot where people can build fairy houses and trails through the property. There is also an area to practice picking apples, where people can perfect the motion of picking the fruit without bruising it, by lifting a red ball off of a hook.

“You don’t want to squeeze it. You want to cup it and it bring it slowly to the sun,” said Jack McAdam, whose wife, Ellen, is a seventh-generation McDougal.

McDougal Orchards in Springvale is planning a 90th birthday party in September for this group of trees, planted in 1931 and still producing apples. Photo courtesy of McDougal Orchards

A COLORFUL SCENE

From the air, Libby & Son U-Picks in Limerick looks like a colorful quilt, with lots of shades of red, blue and purple. That’s because Libby’s has apples, raspberries and blueberries throughout the fall, as well as some peaches. The orchard also has homemade donuts, fresh fruit smoothies and picnic areas, plus live music by local groups on many days. There will also be people making balloon characters for kids on some days.

APPLES AND WINE

At Boothby’s Orchard & Farm Winery in Livermore, you can mix your apple-picking adventure with an outdoor wine tasting. The orchard opens for the season for picking on Sept. 9, and the wine tastings will happen whenever they’re open. The orchard winery makes apple wines, including a sweet, a dry and a “blush” with rhubarb and apple. They also grow grapes there and make wine from them as well. At some point in the fall, they’ll also have pumpkin picking.

HORSE AROUND

Spiller Farm in Wells will have horse-drawn wagon rides on Maine Apple Sunday, and that day will be the official opening of the farm’s u-pick pumpkin patch. There is a picnic and play area. You can bring your own lunch or buy pizza or sandwiches at the farm store. There are also geese, goats and roosters to see. Bring cash, as debit/credit is not accepted for any of the fruit picking.

GOBBLE GOBBLE

Orchard Ridge Farm & Specialty Food Market in Gorham is slated to open for apple picking the second week of September and will have pears ready in September as well, according to the farm’s website. At the market, there are locally raised turkeys and turkey meat for sale. Pre-ordering for holiday turkeys began in late summer, so you might think about ordering one while out at the farm for a day of apple picking. The farm market also has other local meats, dairy products, eggs, honey and specialty foods.


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