Do we choose a pumpkin or does it choose us? Sure, there are cardboard bins filled with pumpkins in all sorts of box stores, but there is just something special about heading out to the farm and gazing across the pumpkin patch knowing your perfect pumpkin is awaiting you. Maybe it’s that odd shape or nub that will make the perfect wart on the face you plan to carve. It can be a magical experience and it is always a joy to see our guests well pleased with their pumpkin choices. Here are a few tips to help your family experience the magic this Fall Pumpkin Harvest Season.
1) Inspect your pumpkin. Be sure the stem is solidly attached and that there are no nicks or soft spots… especially on the bottom. This will help ensure that your pumpkin lasts for carving or into November for décor and pies.
2) Make it a Date and Flip the Day. Pumpkins aren’t just for kids and visiting the pumpkin patch can be a great fall date! Since lots of families will pick in the morning and head home for naps, we suggest couples start with lunch at our sister properties, Bluemont Vineyard or Dirt Farm Brewing, and then come over for the 3:00 p.m. pig race and then ride out to the pumpkin patch.
3) Bring a wagon. There can be lots of walking around farms with play areas and pumpkins can be big and heavy and the walk to the parking lot after a busy day. Many farms offer wheelbarrows to carry your booty to the car but, if you bring a wagon, you’ll have it the whole day to carry the kids and gear and then load up your pumpkins after picking for an easy exit.
4) Make Separation Plans. There can be lots of folks visiting the pumpkin patch and kids can be excited to move on to the next play structure or event without waiting for family to catch up. Make a plan with your kids in the event you get separated. Tell younger children to go to a cash register attendant to say they have lost their parents. This way, the staff can help reconnect you. Set a place to meet such as at the How Tall This Fall Sign which is next to the hayride area. Take a family picture there to “mark the spot” so your older children know where to meet you if you get separated.
5) Bring your Camera. Your goal is to create memories that you can savor, so break out the camera or smart phone and bring it along for some great family photo ops. When you share on social media, be sure to tag us on Instagram @greatcountryfarms #greatcountryfarms for a chance to be featured!
6) Play Hooky & Avoid the Crowds. Weekday afternoons are always the least busy at pumpkin patches. Take a day off and make memories on a beautiful fall afternoon… your family is worth it! If that is not an option, Sunday mornings are the least busy on weekends.
7) Plan what will you do with your leftover jack-o-lantern. The compost pile isn’t the only option to dispose of your carved pumpkin after Halloween. Check out our Pumpkin Chunkin’ for a smashing weekend! Give your pumpkin the proper send-off on our zip line, have us drop it from our Drop Zone and more! Here at Great Country Farms, we feed all of our smashed pumpkins to our cows and pigs who greatly appreciate having this delicacy opened for them making it easier to eat.
Now you know the secrets, so plan your pumpkin picking adventure!
Weekday Admission: $8/child 3+ and $10/adult 18+
Saturday & Sunday Admission: $10/child 3+ and $12/adult 18+
It’s peak apple picking season in northern Virginia. I was thinking about posting tips for apple picking but found that there are already some excellent posts out there… my favorite is 10 Tips for Organizing an Apple Picking Outing with Kids. One of the tips is to plan to get lots of apples and plan what you’ll do with them. So, to help with those planning efforts, here is a list of apples ripe in northern Virginia in mid-September. We’ve added photos, descriptions of their qualities and tasting notes. Now you’re ready to pick lots of apples!
At Great Country Farms, all of our apple trees have been planted in the last 15 years so we are considered a “modern orchard” with dwarf trees designed for easy pick your own. No ladders required! Our varieties are names that you may not recognize but they have been derived from some of the best classic apples. Take a wander through our varieties below and decide which options are best for you and your family.
- Description: This glossy yellow beauty is shaped like a Red Delicious apple with the top wider than the bottom and knobs on its flooring.
- Parentage: This tree was discovered as a chance seedling growing in a Red Delicious orchard in New York. Hence, Candy Crisp is thought to be related to and has a similar shape to Red Delicious but the skin color is golden yellow.
- Tasting Notes: Firm, juicy and sweet with a somewhat pear-like flavor.
- Uses: Sweeter apple great for eating & dessert baking. Keeps well for 1-2 months refrigerated.
- Description: deep red with creamy, white flesh and crisp, juicy eating quality similar to old-fashioned Jonathan, with 100% Jonathan flavor.
- Parentage:Introduced in 1965 this apple was developed as a Purdue Rutger Illinois Coop from Golden Delicious, Jonathan and Rome Beauty PRI 855-102 x NJ 31
- Tasting Notes: Flavor is Jonathan-like, but less acidic.
- Use: Great for Eating and holds up nicely for baking. Great lunch box size apples.
- Description: this lovely red apple often shows golden striations.
- Parentage:Golden Delicious and Jonathan
- Tasting Notes: The Jonagold apple has a balanced blend of both its parents’ flavors offering the sweet-tart taste found in the Jonathan and the aromatic honey-like scent of the Golden Delicious.
- Use: A great choice for cider, juicing and cooking. This apple stores well for 1-2 months refrigerated.
- Description: This more petite apples is deep red with creamy, white flesh and crisp, juicy eating quality similar to old-fashioned Jonathan, with 100% Jonathan flavor.
- Parentage:Sport (natural mutation) of Jonathan
- Tasting Notes: Biting in reveals, well, a Jonathan which is an old classic, sweet and balanced and cidery, with flashes of spice.
- Use: This smaller apples is great for lunches and snacks.
- Description: This tall, large, yellow-hued apple that is mostly yellow with some green or red flush.
- Parentage:Golden Delicious cross with Indo (Same parents as the Mutsu Apple)
- Tasting Notes: This descendant of the golden has an almost buttery flavor that is mostly sweet with a hint of tart.
- Uses: Eating, apple sauce and great for making dried apple rings.
Now that you know all about the apples ready to pick this season, here are some great links to Savor Apple Recipes and 15 Things to Do with all the apples you pick this fall. Enjoy!
It’s peak peach picking season and 2017 may well be the “Year of the Peach” in Virginia. Growing conditions, including a mild winter, regular spring rains and a dry June, have enhanced the sugars and culminated into a fantastic peach crop statewide according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture. Some varieties can be so plentiful that the weight of the fruit bends the peach tree limbs close to the ground. Now is the time to savor this sweet treat of summer. The fragrance in the orchard is like sunshine, and the trickle of fresh peach juice down your chin is truly something to savor. Here are 10 tips to help you pick some to eat, some for baking, and some for freezing to bring memories of summer sunshine to a cold winter’s day.
- Get out early to beat the heat of the day and for the best picking selection. Bring a cooler with ice packs to hold your bounty if you plan a full day in the country.
- Dress for the weather with a hat, sunscreen and bug spray. Wear closed toed shoes and bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.
- Shake the limb… if the orchard is using minimal pesticides, there may be some June Bugs enjoying the fruit. Be sure to jiggle the tree limb gently to encourage them to fly away before picking.
- Gently pull the fruit from the branch… if it does not come off easily it may need a few more days on the tree.
- Avoid fruit that has fallen on the ground as it may have bees or is most likely damaged from the fall from the tree.
- Use a box or sturdy shallow container for picking. Peaches bruise easily so a bag can be filled with peach juice if it is bumped around too much. Don’t pile the peaches too high as the ones on the bottom of the container may bruise. If you bring your own containers, have them weighed before picking so you don’t have to move your fruit for weighing for purchase.
- Pay for what you pick…remember the orchard is the farmer’s livelihood and their peach revenue has to last them through the winter until the next peach season! If you’re picking a lot, ask if a bulk rate is available.
- Peaches will ripen further on the counter at home. To speed ripening, place them in a paper bag and check each day for softening. Once your peaches are fully ripe, refrigerate them for up to a week or freeze them for smoothies and ice cream.
- Pick enough to freeze for the winter so you can bring out some summer sunshine on a cold day. Here are some great freezing guidelines from the folks at PickyourOwn.org.
- Peaches are super versatile and can be used in salsa, salads, grilled, and in a myriad of desserts. Check out these 25 Peach Recipes to Make this summer from thekitchn.com.
Peak peach picking conditions should last through at least mid-August. Great Country Farm’s peaches are
includes the wagon ride to the orchard as well as a full day of fun on the farm in our 5 acre farm play area. Bring a cooler to store your fruit while you enjoy some family fun on the farm.
One of the joys of farming is that each season is different, fresh and a new start. This year Mother Nature has thrown us a bit of a curve with a mild winter and warm spring that has helped our strawberries ripen several weeks earlier than usual. With the arrival of the short 3-4 week strawberry season the sweet smell of strawberries is in the air! Most of us are accustomed to strawberries from the grocery that were shipped in from far away places and picked before they are fully ripe to ensure smooth travels. Local strawberries are a totally different experience. You are selecting each one yourself at the peak of perfection. They are ripe and red totally through and filled with flavor beyond comparison.
Here are 5 tips to make your strawberry picking experience the best!
- Play Hooky and pick on a weekday when strawberry availability is at it’s peak. Strawberries ripen over time and supplies are best mid-week.
- Arrive right when the farm opens on weekends. Since the demand for local strawberries far exceeds the capacity of local production, most farms are picked early on weekends. Follow your favorite farms on social media for updates on picking conditions throughout the day.
- Local Berries are Fragile. Eat your strawberries or freeze them within 24 hours of picking. Most local berries are grown for flavor rather than shipping so they will not last like those in the grocery.
- Dress for Picking You’re visiting a working farm so close-toed shoes, sun hat and sunscreen are in order. A red shirt is a good idea for the kids in case any juice drips from a sample.
- Please pay for your Strawberries before eating them. It’s hugely tempting to eat strawberries while picking, but please keep in mind that the strawberry patch is really the Farmer’s Market and your farmer’s livelihood. Strawberries are sold by the pound at most farms so you will need to weigh and pay before you enjoy.
- Make it a Family Fun Day! Bring a cooler with ice packs to save your strawberry bounty. The Loudoun Spring Farm Tour is May 20 & 21st this year so you may want to visit several farm to see farm animals and enjoy other activities such as jumping pillows!
Peak strawberry picking conditions should last though at least the 3rd weekend of May 2017. Great Country Farms’ strawberries are $2.99/lb plus farm admission for a full day of Family Fun on the Farm. Join us for our Strawberry Jubilee Festival Weekends ~ Earliest ever on May 6 & 7 and May 13 & 14, 2017.