MADISON — Beneath Sunday’s cloudless blue sky, 5-year-old Dallas Nichols laughed and tromped his way through rows of apple trees at North Star Orchards.

The boy was leading the charge as he and his parents, Suzanne and Craig Nichols, of Pittsfield, embarked on their annual apple picking excursion during Maine Apple Sunday.

Suzanne Nichols carried a bag filled with apples the family had picked, and even as the bag inched closer to overflowing, Dallas continued collecting more.

“I like the Honeycrisps best,” Dallas said. “But I like some yellow ones, too.”

Dallas and his parents were among many families at North Star and orchards across the state celebrating the 23rd annual Maine Apple Sunday. The event is organized by the Maine Pomological Society and takes place during the brief window when the summer and fall apple harvests are ripe. Some 15 orchards participated statewide.

Apple farmers across Maine faced a challenging growing season in 2023, with difficult weather making this year’s crop more difficult to grow. Tough and unpredictable conditions have become something of the norm for farmers of all kinds as climate change continues to affect weather patterns and growing seasons.


Weston Johnson, 2, of Skowhegan, carries apples while picking them with his mother, Brittany, and sister, Piper, 7, at North Star Orchards in Madison during the 23rd annual Maine Apple Sunday. The three are picking with the children’s grandmother, Sally Morin, of Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

At Hansel’s Apple Orchards in North Yarmouth, owned by Turner and Margie Hansel, lots of families showed up to pick apples under blue skies Sunday – a dramatic change from the day before.

“It’s busy,” Hansel said. “The sun is out. It has that first fall feeling. It’s not 85 degrees, and it’s not raining!”

This year’s crop is excellent, she said: “The apples are really big from so much rain.”

Some of her apples have some blotching because of all the rain, but that is just on the surface of the fruit, she said. “We feel very fortunate that we have such a great crop, because not all orchards fared the frost as well as we did.”

Weston Johnson, 2, of Skowhegan, enjoys an apple Sunday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Some orchards lost fruit during a May frost, which was followed by a rainy summer.

Greg Sweetser of Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland said the amount of damage the May frost did depended on orchards’ elevations. The frost took out about one third of Sweetser’s crop, but the apples he has are good. “Apples love water,” he said.


Hansel’s Orchard was not hurt by the spring frost, Hansel said. “We’ve got these big pine trees around us. Our orchard is protected.”

At Libby U-Pick orchard in Limerick, parking lots were full of customers Sunday, said grower Aaron Libby.

In Turner, Ricker Hill Orchards posted Sunday that it survived the storm fine with lots of apples and pumpkins to pick, plus plenty of donuts. Apple growers said fresh apples are expected to be available through October.

By noon Sunday, North Star Orchards in Madison had already seen more than 300 visitors, according to Carol Vigneault, who has worked at the orchard’s store for more than 25 years. Vigneault said more people had visited than was initially expected, attributing the strong turnout to the clear weather, warm temperatures and welcoming environment.

“You know, the store is nice, the people are nice, the orchard is beautiful,” Vigneault said. “We’ve had three years of drought prior, so to have this whole summer of rain was a little shocking for the trees and for us. We could have used some more sun, but we actually have a nice crop. I’m kind of excited.”

As farmers continue to recover from difficult growing seasons, poor harvests and the still-rippling economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine Apple Sunday has become an increasingly important show of community for orchards across the state. The day has become an important driver of tourism as apple growers continue to rebound from the pandemic.


“It’s fun and it’s difficult all at the same time,” said Jennifer Dimock, who oversees North Star Orchards’ operations. “This is a family orchard. So I get to work with my family, which is wonderful, but it’s always challenging. My parents bought this place almost 50 years ago, and orchards have always reached out to other orchards to help.”

The orchard has been a family-run operation since at least the late 1800s, although several families have owned it over the years.

Phil Haulk shops for apples at North Star Orchards in Madison during the 23rd annual Maine Apple Sunday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

When asked if she expects a third generation of Dimocks to take ownership of the farm, she laughed and said that decision is not hers.

“My parents always said to us: ‘We don’t expect you to take it over. We’re doing it for us, and if you want to, great. If you don’t, do your own thing,’ ” she said. “I think that’s the way we’ll approach it, too.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Bonnie Washuk contributed to this report.

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