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Omaha Magazine

How 'Bout Them Apples: Apple Picking Season Arrives

Aug 29, 2022 03:44PM ● By Patrick McGee
hand reaches up to pick a red apple

Photo via iStock

The passing of Labor Day and singing of cicadas at dusk are sure signs that that the dog days of summer are coming to an end. Soon, cooler temps will prevail and harvest time will begin. One autumn tradition many look forward to in Nebraska—the home of Arbor Day—is apple picking. 

Apples are abundant in Nebraska come September, weighting branches in orchards and flooding grocery stores with many home-grown varieties. The eastern half of our state is home to a dozen or so orchards that produce many varieties of the tasty fruits.

Kayleen Knudson, orchard manager at Trees, Shrubs and More, is happy to facilitate apple-picking outings. “We make it very easy,” she said, noting they grow dwarf tree varieties, so no ladder is necessary—the picking is as easy as it gets. “People stop in. We give them bags. We send them out,” she said. Apple pickers pay for produce by the pound. 

The Bellevue orchard boasts 10 varieties of apple trees, four of which are available for picking this fall: the popular Jonathan, Cortland, Honey Gold, and Ultra Gold Delicious. The following varieties are also expected to hang in the orchard for harvest next year: Royal Empire, Fuji, Gala, Liberty, Gold Rush, and Braeburn. The 2,000-tree orchard is open for picking from late August through October. 

Many varieties are well suited for pies, tarts, apple bread, sauce, and salads. Knudson said Cortlands “cook down,” or reduce to tender bites the best, and Jonathan and Cortland are ideal for baking. Mixing tart and sweeter varieties can add flavor dimention to baked goods. Honey Gold and Ultra Gold are the most popular varieties for simple eating. Knudson knows of several customers who make their own cider from their apples. Cider can be made with any type of apples, or even a mix.

Trees, Shrubs and More sells its own apple creations at their retail store, baked or otherwise. Their caramel apples are particularly popular, Knudson said. The garden center also sells fruit trees, for those who want a more do-it-yourself approach to apple picking.

Knowing how to identify the best apples and when to pick them is key. Definitely look out for bruising or holes in fruit, Knudson warned. “We don’t want that,” she said, noting that the orchard treats their apples to prevent “worms” (actually moth larvae) and other insects from burrowing, but only minimally. Also, avoid apples that are too firm (not ripe and usually too acidic) or lack skin color. Inside, the pips (seeds) should be dark in color, and the flesh should give fairly easily. To harvest, grab hold of the apple and turn it upside down, pulling it off the tree without harming the branches. Keep in mind, apples on the tree perimeter ripen before those nearest the trunk. Also, don’t discount all apples on the ground. If they’ve just fallen, they’re often perfectly ripe.

A good growing season in the region this year has produced a great crop of apples for the taking. So, get to an orchard this fall and fill a few bags, and enjoy the sweet (and sometimes tart) fruits of your labor. Your taste buds will thank you. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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