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Gardening: ‘U-pick’ farms

Fall is perfect time to visit ‘U-pick’ farms

By Katie Jackson

Ava Claire Millard, Steve Wilson, Francesca Millard and Andy Millard of Mountain View Orchard in Chilton County.
Ava Claire Millard, Steve Wilson, Francesca Millard and Andy Millard of Mountain View Orchard in Chilton County.

Summer’s over and the days are getting shorter, which means it’s time to put every one of those dwindling daylight hours to good use, whether at work or at play.

On the work front, use some of that daylight to ready the yard and garden for winter. Remove dead plants, fallen fruits or vegetables, limbs and leaves from gardens, orchard floors and the landscape. While you’re at it, trim off weak or dead limbs from trees and large shrubs, especially those located close to a house or other structure where they might fall and cause damage during winter weather events.

Invest some of those precious daytime hours in preparing your plants for winter as well. Repot any plants that have outgrown their containers and bring in any potted plants that can’t tolerate cold weather, but check to make sure you’re not also bringing in lizards, bugs or any other surprises from the great outdoors.

To prepare landscape plants for winter, mulch tender perennials or newly planted shrubs and trees and deeply water landscape plants, especially new plantings, every week or 10 days until the first hard freeze.

Use some of that daylight to plant annuals such as mums, pansies and ornamental kale and cabbage for immediate beauty and color, or plant spring-blooming bulbs, which won’t be pretty until next year but will be well worth the wait.

All work and no play can be, well, dull, so incorporate some fun in your days.  A walk in the fall woods is always worthwhile, but this time of year there are also some great agri-tourism activities to enjoy.

Among these are corn mazes, U-pick pumpkin patches and fruit orchards and fall food and farm festivals, not to mention those U-cut Christmas tree farms that will be opening their gates as the holidays get closer.

Activities such as these not only are fun, they can reap some truly fresh fall produce, they are educational and participating in them helps support local farmers.

According to www.hobbyfarms.com, U-pick operations are one of the fastest growing sectors of small-farm agriculture, in part because they offer a nostalgic experience for customers.

That’s something that Andy Millard, co-owner of Mountain View Orchard in Chilton County, has seen firsthand.

Mountain View Orchards (www.mountainvieworchards.com) offers U-pick peaches, apples and other tree fruit from summer through early fall (they may still have a few apples left this month and they expect to have a longer season in the years to come). Andy and his partner/father-in-law, Steve Wilson, established the orchard a few years ago as a way to involve their entire family in farming. But the orchard has also been great for other families, an experience that Millard finds very rewarding.

“Having the U-pick allows families to bring out the younger generation to the farm so that they can see exactly where food comes from,” he says, noting that a number of their customers bring their children and grandchildren to the farm so to get out of the city and experience the country. But it also offers some of his older customers a way to reminisce and give their grandchildren a glimpse of what life was like for them back when they worked on family farms.

Millard has also noticed that many of his customers are drawn to the porch at Mountain View’s general store.

“I see older couples approach the general store and, when they spot our chairs, they head straight over and sit and sit…,” he says, adding that many people either don’t have front porches or don’t have the time to sit on their own porches where, as Millard says, “they can sit with a breeze.”

Children also truly enjoy the farm, Millard says, recalling a little girl who chose their farm for her fifth birthday party. And it is the children who really feel invested in the experience.

“I’ll see parents start grabbing the baskets to load into the vehicle after picking and the children will make a stand as to which basket they picked.” The parents may believe that the baskets are all the same but “That doesn’t fly with the kids,” says Millard.  After all, those youngsters spent a precious day themselves getting to the farm and sweating to fill their baskets, so those baskets are very personal. “I’ve seen the kids grab their basket and hold it in their lap instead of putting it in the trunk with all of the rest that are going to the same house.”

In this fast-food, tech-driven world, visiting a farm can be a unique and long-lasting experience that, Millard hopes, also helps create the next generation of customers as today’s youngsters grow up and continue to come to the farm to purchase their food.

To find such an experience in your part of the state visit www.pickyourown.org/AL.htm. This page is worth bookmarking, too, because it offers listings of farms that have spring and summer produce as well as fall and winter items. To see a list of Alabama fall food festivals visit the Alabama Tourism Department’s Year of Alabama Food webpage at www.yearofalabamafood.com/events/.

William Cullen Bryant once said of fall: “Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” Whatever you do with your days this fall, find ways to make you smile.

 

October Gardening Tips

Plant a winter cover crop (ryegrass, etc.) in your garden to protect and enrich soil.

Clean and oil garden tools for winter storage.

Continue mowing lawns until no sign of new growth is evident.

Plant shrubs and trees.

Apply compost to gardens and turn compost piles.

Keep bird feeders and birdbaths filled to attract migrating and local birds.

Test soil and add amendments as needed.

Dry and save seed.

Take cuttings of tender perennials.

Harvest and dry or freeze herbs for winter use.

Clean and store empty pots, garden tools and equipment for the winter.

Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes and onion sets.