The stifling heat of summer is gone. Autumn is here, and so is Georgia apple pickin’ time. But apples can’t be found growing everywhere in the state. To get them, a drive to the north Georgia mountains must be made.
The apple capitol of Georgia, Gilmer County, is in its peak of the season. And the best picking time is right now, and this year’s harvest is looking especially strong.
“This year has been a really good year for the growers,” said Michael Wheeler, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Gilmer County. “Some of the harvest came in early because of the heat, but overall the quality and quantity looks very good.”
Only a couple of orchards distribute their apples to stores, and those stores are in north Georgia. Some growers sell apples in bulk at wholesale prices to consumers from other areas in the state. The rest of apples, about 90 percent, can only be purchased from roadside stands or directly from the orchards.
The apples sold in north Georgia are all local to the area. Wheeler says there is little shipping involved in their distribution, and consumers know where the product is coming from.
North Georgia allows for a wide variety of apples, which are sweeter and fare far better in comparison to those found in the grocery store, he said.
“The apples hang on the tree until they are harvested and taken straight to the stands. The apples are able to mature on the tree until they are just perfect,” said Wheeler.
Another great aspect of getting the freshest apples around is the mountain life experiences. Agritourism in northeast Georgia keeps visitors plenty busy. There are plenty of camping grounds, hiking trails, sight seeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and the beautiful mountain landscape full of orange and red leaves.
“The number of visitors increases significantly with the weather as well,” he said. “A break from the heat gives sunny, cool days that are perfect to be outside in.”
The weather couldn’t come at a better time, either. The main event of apple season in Gilmer County is the annual Georgia Apple Festival, which will be this weekend and again Oct. 16-17 this year. Activities will include shopping, crafts, petting farms, pig races, pumpkin patches and, of course, apple bobbing and apple products galore.
“We are anticipating a good crowd because of the weather during the first weekend of the apple festival,” Wheeler said.
Throughout harvest, not just during festival times, most orchards in Gilmer County allow visitors to tour orchards, pick their own apples and take them home, he said.
For more information on the Apple Festival, visit the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce website at www.gilmerchamber.com.
(Sarah Lewis is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)