McHenry County orchards, u-pick farms ready for fall

Royal Oak Farm opens for apple picking

Royal Oak Farm's Justin Bell tastes a Pristine apple on Friday, August 18, 2023, that will be ready for picking as apple picking season begins on Saturday, August 19, 2023 at Royal Oak Farm in Harvard. Ryan Rayburn for Shaw Local

The apple tree maze at Royal Oak Farm near Harvard feels like a European hedgerow to walk through, said Sarah Bell as she walked around the farm Friday ahead of its season opening.

The maze’s 4 acres of walkways and some of Royal Oak’s apple orchards opened to the public Saturday.

The farm has 30 varieties of apples that ripen anywhere from the middle of August to the end of October, said Bell, who coordinates marketing efforts for Royal Oak Farm.

Redfree apples are ready for picking, she said. Golden Delicious apples will be ripe around Labor Day weekend, Honeycrisp around mid-September, and Granny Smith and Evercrisp in October.

“Once they become ripe, they only last on the trees for about two to three weeks before they start to soften,” Bell said.

While the apples ripen, Royal Oak’s farm store is already carrying apple products. Pristine apples are already in the store and customers can enjoy apple cider doughnuts, Bell said.

Apple picking season begins on Saturday, August 19, 2023 at Royal Oak Farm in Harvard. Pictured is a Jonathan apple which will be ready to pick by September. Ryan Rayburn for Shaw Local

While Royal Oak Farm was quiet Friday ahead of the season opening, some customers were already enjoying the store and its offerings.

Prairie Sky Orchard, a small apple orchard in Union, is set to open for the season on Sept. 1.

SueEllen Arndt, who owns the orchard alongside her husband, Ralph, said the orchard tends to be open through the end of October, but not always.

“We can get picked out fast,” she said. “It all depends on the crowd.”

For those interest in braving the crowds, Bell had some advice to help them find the perfect apple.

”The more color an apple has, typically, the sweeter it’s going to be,” Bell said. “You want to make sure you’re looking for one that has really good color and good size.”

She also demonstrated how to pick an apple off the tree.

“We always tell our customers to twist until the apple comes off, at least three times,” she said, adding that pulling apples off the tree might cause more apples to fall to the ground.

Once the apples are off the tree, Bell said to store apples in the fridge to keep them fresher longer and check on them once a week to make sure none are getting soft.

Linda Leeds of Wadsworth, shops inside the Royal Oak Country Store on the Royal Oak Farm on Friday, August 18, 2023. Apple picking season begins on Saturday, August 19, 2023 at Royal Oak Farm in Harvard. Ryan Rayburn for Shaw Local

“Keep them away from all other fruits and vegetables because apples emit ethylene gas, which will cause other fruits and vegetables to ripen quicker,” Bell said.

Royal Oak also has a pumpkin patch, which Bell said would open mid-September and features pumpkins designed for carving. She added the market has smaller pumpkins people can use for baking.

Bell is looking forward to a lovely fall season, enjoying eating apples from her orchard, and seeing families make fall memories.

“The leaves are changing colors and I think fall’s the prettiest time of the year in the Midwest,” Bell said. “It’s really exciting to see families gathering and doing activities outside away from electronics and phones.”

McHenry County Farms with pick-your-own apples

All Seasons Orchard, 14510 Route 176, Woodstock, will open Aug. 26. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.

Royal Oak Farm, 15908 Hebron Road, Harvard, opened for the season Aug. 19. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Prairie Sky Orchard, 4914 North Union Road, Union, opens for the season Sept. 1, with hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Cody’s Farm, 19502 River Road, Marengo, will open Sept. 9 for apple picking, with hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Stade’s Farm & Market, 3709 Miller Road, McHenry, opens for the season Aug. 25. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, but weekday hours vary based on availability.

Homestead Orchard, 11802 Charles Road, Woodstock, has had apple picking since July. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Goebbert’s Farm, 42W813 Reinking Road, Pingree Grove, will open for apple picking on Aug. 25, with hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Lang’s Orchard, 17411 Secor Road, Woodstock, will open for the season Sept. 9, with hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.