Making memories with apples: Tips for your Pick Your Own apple orchard visit

May 28, 2019

For many of us, the idea of walking through a fruit-laden apple orchard on a crisp, sunny fall day is a classic image of fall in Ontario. That image can become reality thanks to the many Pick Your Own (PYO) apple farms in our province that invite visitors to make their own apple harvest memories.

Nature’s Bounty Farm near Port Perry is one of those farms. Cathy McKay and her husband Marvin Stevenson bought the then run-down 100-acre farm 40 years ago and planted their first five acres of apple orchard in 1980.

“We were 26 and 27 years old and we had energy and not a lot of money,” says Cathy of the early years that were spent revitalizing the property and building their orchard.

It was in the mid-1990s that they first launched their PYO business and opened their farm to the public. Those were tough years in the apple business, so they knew they needed to do something to set themselves apart from the flood of imported fruit coming into the province.

“We had to decide what we had to differentiate us from Chile and Washington – and what we had was proximity to Toronto and a beautiful property in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area),” she says.

Today, Nature’s Bounty Farm grows 22 different types of apples – people like a lot of choice, according to Cathy – with Honeycrisp, Gala and Ambrosia as their top varieties. Last year, 25,000 people visited the farm between Labour Day and Halloween, from a young couple on their first date to young families with children and school tours.

The apple picking is supplemented by a corn maze, a flock of sheep and a seasonal farm market where visitors can buy local products like honey, corn on the cob and apple cider.

“It’s a wonderful esthetic experience – you walk down two rows of trees laden with apples and you’re in amongst a whole bunch of wonderful food,” she says. “For us, the best part is seeing people enjoying that aspect of our farm.”

Are you planning to visit a Pick Your Own orchard this fall? Here are Cathy’s tips on how to prepare for an enjoyable experience on the farm:

Know what kind of apples you like and when they’re ready to be picked
Different apple varieties ripen at different times during the harvest season and it’s best to pick fruit when it’s ready and at its peak and not when there is no flavour. Know what you like – whether sweet or more tart fruit, for example – and check the farm’s website and Facebook page to check what varieties are available for picking when.

Check the weather and dress appropriately
A PYO visit is a mostly outdoor adventure, so it’s important to bundle up if the temperatures will be low or wear rain gear if the weather will be wet.

Don’t rush
There are many different activities on the farm in addition to apple picking – and things can take a bit longer if the farm is busy, so give yourself enough time to enjoy the experience.

Plan ahead
Regardless of what farm you’re visiting, check their website and Facebook page for opening hours and what varieties are in season. “Because we have produce in the store year-round, it can be hard for people to know what is in season,” says Cathy.

Bring your questions about apples and apple farming!
No one is better equipped to answer questions about apple growing than apple farmers themselves, from how fruit is grown to pest management to advice on the best apple recipe. Cathy has a Master’s Degree in plant pathology and runs a pest management consulting business giving advice to other farmers on how to best care for their crops. Marvin is a livestock nutritionist, which means he helps farmers determine the best diets to feed their livestock. And Nature’s Bounty distributes recipe cards from Ontario Apple Growers to inspire visitors with new ways to consume apples.

Visit Nature’s Bounty online at https://www.naturesbountyfarm.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/naturesbountyfarm1