One Saturday this spring 1,200 people showed up to pick strawberries at Eckert’s Orchard in Versailles, a number farm manager Megan Fields hasn’t seen in her eight years there.
Last year’s season was all but lost to the coronavirus pandemic and freezes, but this year the climate gods smiled on a beleaguered Bluegrass and filled the strawberry (and peach and blueberry and blackberry and, soon, apple) fields with both fruit and people.
“Last year we had zero crop in peaches and apples,” Fields said, because of a late freeze. And, of course, there were Kentucky COVID-related restrictions on pick-your-own fruit, although they eased off in the fall. This year, the combination of a pandemic pause thanks to vaccines and a cool, wet spring have Central Kentucky orchards thriving again.
People hungry for fresh air and fruit are finding plenty to pick. The cool spring slowed the ripening process but “helped in terms of the size of the fruit and the amount,” Fields said. Peaches are abundant and her “guestimate” is that the apple crop is up 30 percent.
The strawberries are gone now and the blueberries are almost done but Fields and Trudie Reed at Reed Valley Orchard said blackberries and peaches will be going strong through August when apples will take center stage.
Pick-your-own BLUEBERRY Special until further notice ￼we are running a super SALE rain or shine. We have been...
The Reeds’ apples are “probably one of the best crops we’ve had in 20 years, they’re loaded” Trudie Reed said. Last year they lost “99.9 percent” of their apples. They were afraid the same spring frost that wiped out this year’s pear crop might have taken its toll on the apples, too, she said. But when her husband Dana went out each morning to check on them he found something surprising. “There’s apple angels hanging fruit on our trees every night,” he told his wife.
“There’s generally a pretty good crop across the state in tree fruit — peaches and apples,” this year said John Strang, an Extension Fruit and Vegetable Specialist at the University of Kentucky until he retired last fall. Peaches used to be a very iffy crop in Kentucky because late freezes could take out the blooms but, “with global warming we get more consistent crops.” Apples, peaches and pears are all non-native crops introduced by Europeans who came to Kentucky, Strang said, while blueberries, persimmons and pawpaws are native species, although the latter two aren’t often produced commercially.
The orchard “experience” has become more than just picking fruit. Eckert’s and Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown both charge field access fees to pick fruit, gain access to stores, cafes, picnic areas and playgrounds. Additional activities, like private bonfire sites, photo ops among sunflowers, hayrides and outdoor concerts are also offered with varying costs. This weekend at Evans Orchard is their Sunflower Festival featuring live music, drinks and food.
The Reeds don’t charge any fee for access to Reed Valley Orchard but do have a country store on site that sells fruit, in addition to ice cream, baked goods, jams and crafts.
But the fruit is the center of it all. Fields was “born and raised in Woodford County, just about 10 minutes from here (Eckert’s).” “I visited the farm (then Kaenzig Orchard) as a little girl.” She came to work there in 2013 when it was Boyd Orchard and became manager in 2017 when Eckert’s, a family-owned farming and orchard operation based in Illinois, bought the farm. Now, she says, although they only grow fruit in Versailles, the vegetables sold in the farm store come from other Eckert’s properties.
The vegetables at Evans in Georgetown come from the farm itself, which has been in the family since the time of Kevan Evans’ great grandfather, who raised tobacco and cattle. In the 1990s Kevan began the shift away from tobacco and to vegetables and apples, eventually converting the tobacco barn into a store where the fresh things are on sale as well as jams, honey and, of course, cider.
The Reeds began building their Paris orchard over two decades ago when each had a “day job” to keep cash flowing until the orchard began to produce. In a more remote location, they are open only four days a week and accept only cash and checks for their products.
“I just think that it’s a blessing from the Lord … the people keep coming just about as fast as the apples are growing,” Trudie said. “They drive out that bumpy gravel road in the heat of the day to pick fruit, that’s just amazing to us, that’s amazing.”
Central Kentucky pick-your-own fruit farms guide
There are no pick-your-own fruit orchards in Lexington but this list from the surrounding counties includes plenty of options, some with additional activities like playgrounds and hayrides.
What: You-pick strawberries, peaches, blackberries, apples and pumpkins; playground; sunflower trail; bonfire sites; pig races; corn maze; hayrides and market, cafe and bakery.
Where: 1396 Pinckard Pike, Versailles
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
More: 859-873-3097; eckerts.com/versailles
Evans Orchard and Cider Mill
What: You-pick apples, strawberries, blueberries, pears, pumpkins and sunflowers; cider mill; playground; market and cafe; petting zoo and hayrides.
Where: 198 Stone Rd., Georgetown
Hours: Closed Monday; Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday Noon - 5 p.m.
More: 502-863-2255; evansorchard.com
Reed Valley Orchard
What: You-pick apples, blackberries, black and red raspberries, blueberries, pears and peaches; honey; nature trails and country store and bakery.
Where: 239 Lail Lane Paris
Hours: Monday, Wednesday-Friday-Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
More: 859-987-6480; reedvalleyorchard.com
Wilmore Berry Farm
What: You-pick strawberries, blackberries, cherries, veggies and pumpkins.
Where: 1145 Handys Bend Rd, Wilmore
Hours: Vary, best to check Facebook page or call.
More: 859-354-9791; facebook.com/WilmoreBerryFarm
Good afternoon! Hours this week: Wednesday- Friday: 12-5 Saturday: 9-5 Sunday: 1-5 This will be the last of our...
What: You-pick strawberries.
Where: 154 College Hill Rd., Waco
Hours: Monday-Sunday 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
More: 859-369-7300; facebook.com/MarcumFarms
What: You-pick blueberries, thornless blackberries, gooseberries, currents, elderberries, black raspberries, eggs and day lilies.
Where: 307 Dale Ln., Paint Lick
Hours: Vary, best to check Facebook page or call.
More: 859-200-8079; facebook.com/GarverFarms
Herons Landing Apple Orchard
What: You-pick apples
Where: 32 Herons Landing Place, Richmond
More: 859-582-7883; Apples beginning second week of September through October; contact for hours.
Recipe: Eckert’s Peachy Crumble
Recipe courtesy Eckert’s, passed down for 7 generations.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut each stick into 8 pieces
1 large egg, beaten
Peach filling ingredients
5 cups sliced or diced peaches (6-7 peaches)
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. lemon zest, optional
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To prepare crumble: in a 4 quart mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Use two forks or a pastry blender to cut in the butter pieces. Then add the egg. Dough will be crumbly. Divide the dough into two. Pat half into the bottom of the prepared dish. Place remainder in the refrigerator.
To prepare filling: place sliced peaches in a 4 quart mixing bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and zest and stir gently. In a separate 2 quart mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over peaches and toss gently. Spread peach mixture over the first layer of dough evenly.
Top peaches with remaining crumble. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is slightly brown. Cool 20 minutes before cutting squares.
Recipe: Dana Reed’s Quick Apple Pie
Apple mixture ingredients
7 tart apples (prefer McIntosh)
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
10” pie shell (uncooked)
1/3 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
Peel apples and cut in slices.
In an unbaked pie shell sprinkle 1 teaspoon of flour in bottom of shell. Placed sliced apples in unbaked shell.
Sprinkle sugar and spices over apples.
Mix the dry ingredients for the topping. Then cut butter in with pasty blender until crumbly & crumble over apples)
Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.