Core values in the orchard

Apple harvest is annual rite of fall

Jeryl Cundiff and her granddaughter, Lyric Kent, put apples into their box. Enlargephoto

Jeryl Cundiff and her granddaughter, Lyric Kent, put apples into their box.

The sun is shining and the air is crisp. Rays are bouncing off the red, green and yellow orbs hanging from the trees. The orchard is brimming with fruit.

It has been a bountiful harvest. Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Bartlett, Suncrest — all are present and accounted for. A utility vehicle rolls by and Dan Fernandez waves. He is taking yet another patron up the hill with their goodies in tow, ready to weigh out and go home. Or go back for more. Fernandez works the Colorado State University Extension orchard. The orchard/vineyard, in Yellow Jacket, is a demonstration project that operates to research best management practices for orchard and vineyard cultivars.

It has been going strong since 1991. Each year, the annual harvest has increased little by little. And slowly, the amount of pickers, eager and enthusastic to bring home apples, is escalating too.

It’s an annual rite of fall for many in the region. “We had 700 people last year,” Fernandez says. “This year we opened the gates to 300 people already waiting at 7:30.” Fernandez is the extension agent for CSU in Dolores County. He is the know-all when it comes to the orchard and its tasty fruits.

For the pickers, the orchard is lined with hundreds of trees. Apples are not the only coveted orb.

Fernandez boasts that the orchard produces more than 40 types of apples. Then, there are the peaches, plums and pears to consider. “Overall there’s close to 50 various fruits. We had a huge crop this year.”

The hundreds of people snatching fruit from the trees are thrilled with this year’s harvest. People scatter everywhere, pulling wagons and carrying buckets up and down through the trees. Some hitch a ride with Fernandez. Volunteers stand at the end of the rows in bright orange vests. They are the directors of the orchard and hold the answers to fruit finding questions. Deb Gardner offers help in this maze of apple madness. Her secret for sucessful fruit picking lies in her hand. Her clipboard bears all the information one needs to gather up bushels of ripened goodness. Two sheets of paper, hold the key to every apple’s name and location in the orchard.

“It would’ve been great if they had printed these off for everyone,” she says with a grin. “They are really helpful!” A couple approches her on the right. “What can I help you folks with?” Gardner says. The couple are armed with a fruit picker and a bucket. Her vest signifies that she is the guide at this apple intersection. Gardner’s clipboard is bouncing as she explains the layout of the orchard. The couple want to know which apples are best to cook with, which are best to eat and where they can find them.

The selection is massive and daunting. “I like a dry, firm, tart apple to cook with,” Gardner says. “One that won’t go to mush.”

She knows her apples. Golden Delicious is her choice for baking. But the Liberty and Royal Empire she will cook with and eat. She glances at her clipboard, “McIntosh would be interesting to try.” Now she’s thinking out loud. Making mental notes for herself of where she will venture on her picking spree once her volunteer work is done. A family of five, the kids bouncing in their boots, are eager for the picking to commence. Again, Gardner offers her expertise. They thank her and begin their excursion, passing by heads that are buried in branches. Occasionally, an arm appears to drop an apple into a bucket. Lee Berry huddles under a tree. Her husband Steve, stands by their faded red Radio Flyer wagon. It contains stacks of boxes, overflowing with apples and peaches. “These apples are just great,” Lee says. “They’re organic, juicy, well grown. Just great.”

She too knows apples. She’s back under the tree. Steve is beaming, “You can be out here for two weeks and still not get to all the apples.” The Summit Ridge couple have fruit trees at home but unfortunately, those trees did not produce this year. “We had a frost,” he says with a disappointing shrug. “This is our first year here. But it’s great! We’ve been out her for 45 minutes already.” The couple have plans for these apples. Big plans. Applesauce, apple pies, apple muffins, apple crisp, apple tarts. They list them all.

Even their friends in the pasture will enjoy this year’s harvest. “We’re going to feed them to our horses too,” Lee adds. Every horse should get to savor those Red Delicious and Scarlett Galas.

The orchard remains full of apple lovers. Gardner points and offers her expertise, Fernandez loads another group into his vehicle.

Hundreds have come to enjoy this massive harvest. The Berrys head further down the hill, toting their wagon. They have a few more stops to make among the trees before they unload and go back for more....leaving them satisfied to their core. rachels@cortezjournal.com

Kaiden Lundberg loads up on apples while trying to eat one at the same time. Enlargephoto

Kaiden Lundberg loads up on apples while trying to eat one at the same time.

Houston Hurst takes a bite out of an apple he just picked. Enlargephoto

Houston Hurst takes a bite out of an apple he just picked.

Chandler Henderson stretches to reach a plum at the CSU Research Station in Yellowjacket during the U-Pick day. Enlargephoto

Chandler Henderson stretches to reach a plum at the CSU Research Station in Yellowjacket during the U-Pick day.