Southside apple season continues

Apple picking season in Southside doesn’t necessarily end with Halloween weekend.

While Virginia’s apple season begins in July and the majority of the fruit is harvested in September and October, some orchards in and around Southside continue harvesting through early November.

“October is usually the biggest month,” noted John Marker, a partner in the family-owned Marker-Miller Orchards LLC. “But we’ll likely be open the first weekend in November too.”

He said that although this year’s crop suffered from drought conditions earlier in the season, he’s still experiencing a “decent yield” of apples.

“We had hail during last year’s growing season, so we were hoping for a much better year,” noted Marker, who serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Apple Advisory Committee. “But you’re at the mercy of the weather.”

Marker said that even though the season started out dry, seven of the last eight weekends that have been open for pick-your-own apples have experienced at least one rainy day.

“That’s been a challenge, but all in all, we’ve gotten pretty good crowds,” he said, adding that interest in visiting apple farms “is not waning.”

Visitors can pick about 10 different varieties of apples in the Marker-Miller U-pick orchards, including Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Stayman, Rome, York and Nittany, a York-type apple that was engineered to ripen earlier than other apples. Another 18 varieties of pre-picked apples are available in the farm’s market.

Marker said the family planted the pick-your-own orchards 25 years ago and were one of the first orchards in Virginia to plant the Honeycrisp variety.

Today, they grow derivations of Honeycrisp called EverCrisp and WineCrisp. EverCrisp is a hybrid of the Fuji and Honeycrisp apples. WineCrisp is considered a dessert apple.

“Anything with crisp in its name, people like,” Marker observed.

Virginia farmers are growing enough apples to satisfy anyone’s craving. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, 4.1 million bushels of apples were produced in the state in 2022. The apples were grown in over 100 commercial orchards on more than 8,000 acres of land, and their sales contribute $42 million to the state’s economy each year.

Seventy percent of Virginia apples are sold for processing or made into value-added products like applesauce, apple juice, apple butter, apple slices and cider.

Some orchardists, like Marker, make and sell apple cider donuts. “We can’t keep them in stock,” he shared.