By Ken Wilson –
Before there were pumpkin spice lattes and before we were old enough for apple brandy, there were pumpkin pies and apple crisps, cold cider on Indian Summer days and hot cider around the winter fireplace. Even more exciting, for a country boy or an outdoorsy girl, were the pumpkins ripening on their long vines—soon to be carved into jack o’-lanterns—the apples beginning to drop and begging for picking, and the sweet autumn air and warm colors.
It’s peak harvest season at local orchards for bakers, snackers, amateur sculptors, and anyone eager to taste fall’s bounty.
Graves Mountain Lodge
The Apple Harvest Festival at Madison County’s Graves Mountain Lodge is going on its 48th year. This year’s festival is set for October 6,7, 13,14, 20 and 21, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., rain or shine. Admission and parking are free. Well behaved dogs on leashes are welcome.
Festivalgoers can watch apple butter being cooked in kettles over an open fire, and enjoy food, music and entertainment, a hay mountain, a hay maze, hayrides, moon bounces, horseback and pony rides, and over 70 arts and crafts vendors. Apples will be available along with pumpkins, gourds, apple butter and more.
Music will be heard each day from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The schedule is as follows: October 6 – Mark Templeton & Pocket Change. October 7 – Old Dogs New Tricks. Oct 13 – Dark Hollow Band. Oct 14 – James Tamelcoff. Oct 20 – Rocky Hill Bluegrass. Oct 21 – Small Town Rodeo.
Cloggers will dance from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The clogging schedule is as follows: Oct 6 – Cardinal Cloggers. Oct 7 – Hi-Horse Cloggers. October 13 – Bull Run Cloggers. October 14 – Mountain Heritage Cloggers. October 20 – Skyline Country Cloggers. October 21 – Calico Cloggers.
Home cooked meals will be served in the covered picnic pavilion from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or as long as food stores hold out, and reservations are not required. Elsewhere on the grounds, festivalgoers can purchase funnel cakes, apple butter donuts, fried apple slices, and a whole lot more.
Chiles Peach Orchard and Carter Mountain Orchard
Albemarle County’s Chiles family has been growing fruit for five generations, since they first planted peach and apple trees in Crozet in 1912. Since the 1970s the family has also operated Carter Mountain Orchard.
When a bad freeze in 1974 wiped out most of their peach crop, the family ran a Pick-Your-Own ad in the newspaper, cleaned out a tiny section of an old barn, set up a card table with scales and a cigar box, and hoped for customers. They got them.
Setting aside a few acres for peaches, they repeated the experiment the next year. They built a tiny temporary shelter, put up another sign, and Mrs. Chiles and one employee sold peaches seven days a week. What was meant to be a “one-shot deal” in ‘74 became an annual May through Thanksgiving, pick-your-own-fruit tradition at both the Crozet and Carter Mountain orchards.
Today the third, fourth, and fifth generations of the Chiles Family plant, prune, and pick fresh produce that’s sold in Central Virginia and beyond. Visitors can pick their own, or purchase what’s been freshly picked, along with jams and jellies, crafts and gifts.
Chiles Peach Orchard and Farm Market in Crozet is open from early May through Thanksgiving, selling whatever’s in season, including peaches, strawberries, sweet cherries, and pumpkins, along with apples grown on Carter Mountain. Visitors today find a frozen yogurt machine, and an ice cream parlor too.
The orchard‘s seventh annual “Fall Into Fun Festival” will celebrates autumn’s bounty on September 22 and 23, with food, games and prizes. Saturday’s scheduled activities include apple and pumpkin picking, an apple butter making demonstration (apple butter will be for sale after 1:00 p.m.), hayrides and face painting. Sunday’s scheduled activities include apple and pumpkin picking, apple stamping, hayrides and face painting.
Crozet’s own Skyline Country Cloggers will perform, and apple butter will be available for purchase. There will be a fee for the hayrides, face painting, and apple stamping.
Down the road from Monticello and next to Michie Tavern, Carter Mountain Orchard offers a 40-mile view, not to mention eighteen varieties of apples, including Albemarle Pippin, Crispin, Honey Crisp, Lodi, Virginia Gold, Ginger Gold, Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Jonathan, Rome, Stayman, Winesap, York, Granny Smith, Fuji and Pink Lady.
Apple harvest typically begins in late July and extends through mid-November. September, October and November are Apple Harvest Celebration months on the mountain, when visitors can pick their own.
The Country Store sells all thing apple, including butter, jams and jellies, fruit syrups and pancake mixes. Hot cider donuts and apple pie slices are available for folks who just can’t wait. Holiday shopping items include local crafts, baskets, specialty foods, harvest decorations, Christmas ornaments, and American-made toys.
Bold Rock Hard Cider, made from Carter Mountain Apples, is available for sampling and purchasing from 11:00 a.m. each day. Prince Michel Winery uses Carter Mountain grapes (Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more). Nominal tasting fees at the Prince Michel Wine Shop at Carter Mountain benefit local charities. The Mountain Grill serves lunchtime concessions daily (except on Mondays).
With its gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain views, its nourishing autumn bounty, and its Country Store teeming with all things apple, Carter Mountain is a bustling place this time of year; weekday visits are preferable, if possible. Gala, Ginger Gold, Virginia Gold and Honeycrisp apples are currently available.
Carter Mountain will hold its 6th Annual Salute to Hometown Heroes on November 10, celebrating hometown heroes—our fire, rescue, police, and military personnel. Veterans Day will be commemorated at 11:30 a.m. with a flag ceremony by the American Legion.
Military and rescue vehicles will be on display all days, as will booths honoring those who serve and have served. Hometown heroes with ID will receive discounts. Music and hayrides will enhance the fun.
Vintage Virginia Apples and Albemarle Ciderworks
Another Albemarle County family, the Sheltons, have been farming in southern Albemarle County since 1986. That’s the year Bud and Mary Shelton, nearing retirement, bought a small farm in North Garden, named it Rural Ridge after Rural Plains, the Shelton family seat in eastern Virginia, and built their dream house. Along with their four children, Bud planted about 20 fruit trees—apple, pear, peach, and cherry.
Inspired by the heirloom apple tastings conducted at Monticello by author and apple historian Tom Burford, in 1992 the Sheltons purchased trees from Burford’s own orchard. Today their orchard has more than 200 cultivars, including the GoldRush, a late 20th century variety developed by Purdue University, and the MonArk, an early ripening cultivar from the University of Arkansas.
Tom Burford, known as “Professor Apple,” serves as orchard consultant. They have collected about three dozen peach varieties, plus plums, pears, cherries, nectarines and apricots, and they sell over 100 varieties of vintage fruit trees, many of them virtually unobtainable anywhere else. In 2000 the family founded Vintage Virginia Apples, and in 2009 it opened Albemarle CiderWorks.
Albemarle CiderWorks now has seven cider varieties available for tasting and for sale in their Tasting Room, Wednesdays through Sundays, 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. They are currently open until 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays for a farmer’s market.
Liberty Mills Farm
It’s a little hard to see when you’re lost inside the largest corn maze east of the Mississippi, on Liberty Mills Farm not far from James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County. Once out, as the eyes adjust to full sunlight, the mind takes in a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once part of Bloomingdale Farm, this family owned and operated 125-acre farm just east of the Rapidan River is open to the public through November 11th.
Liberty Mills divides its maze into four separate trails. Finding all the story stations and navigating the paths on the first trail takes about 30 minutes. The medium level Trivia Maze takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. The 21-stop third level may take two to three hours. The fourth level is a labyrinth at the top of the maze. No maps guide the brave fourth level traveler; dreams of glory, and of glorious views, lead her on.
Maze admission prices vary. Bring a flashlight—cell phone apps don’t count—for navigating the maze in the evenings. Besides exploring its 33-acre fall maze, visitors can pick their own pumpkins, or just pick one up at the Farm Market. Weekend visitors will find a hay wagon and a children’s activity area.
Layz S Ranch
About 15 miles southeast of Charlottesville in Fluvanna County, the family owned and operated 300+ acre farm called Layz S Ranch is dedicated to community supported agriculture (CSA) with a weekly offering of fresh, healthy food to member families. In 2012, Lazy S expanded, adding a farm store to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables directly.
Visitors this fall will find a pumpkin patch, hay rides, hay maze, giant slide, corn maze, corn pit, corn slide, and pumpkin mums.
The Ranch is open October 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and October 13, 20, and 27 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Admission is $7 per person or $25 per family (two adults max, plus minors), and includes all activities. Kids 2 and under get in free.
Everette (E.O.) and Eva Drumheller established Drumheller’s Orchard in 1937, planting peach and apple trees on an unattended Lovingston farm. When the couple’s son Darrell began helping in 1957, he designed a 110-gallon apple butter kettle with an electric stirrer.
The Drumheller family, now in its fifth generation of running the farm, began holding fall festivals in the 70s. Besides apples and apple cider, visitors to Drumheller’s can enjoy family activities on September 29 and 30, October 20 and 21. The orchard is also open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m.
Drumhellers has Summer Rambo, Early Avul Fuji, Gala, Jonathan, Grimes Golden, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Mutsu, Stayman, Winesap apples for sale now. Rome, Black Twig, Fuji, Nittany and Granny Smith in mid-October. Arkansas Blacks and Albemarle Pippins in late October. Pink Ladies should be available in early November.
Silver Creek & Seamans’ Orchards
Seamans’ Orchard in Tyro in Nelson County grew out of a family agricultural business begun back in 1933. Third and fourth generation Seamans still operate the orchard and live on the land today, growing about 25 varieties of apples, including Jonathan, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, VA Gold, Mutsu, Jonagold, September Wonder (Early Fuji) and Empire, plus pumpkins, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and wine grapes.
The orchard is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Seamans’ and Silver Creek Orchards have held Apple Butter Makin’ Festivals together on the first and third Saturdays in October for over 30 years, making apple butter the old-fashioned way in large copper kettles.
The 2018 festival is set for two Saturdays in October, the 6th and 20th, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Expect food and live music plus crafters, children’s games, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, a cider pressing demo at 11:00 a.m. and Mingo the Clown. Apples, apple butter, jams, jellies, and cider will be for sale.