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One a day: It's apple picking time

The Minnesota apple harvest has arrived, and apple growers say those looking for a favorite variety are advised to call ahead to time their trip.

Minnesota is known for the undisputed quality and variety of its fresh apples such as Haralson, Zestar and Honeycrisp -- all very popular fruit developed by the University of Minnesota. 

Those varieties taste great, and they thrive in our harsh climate -- cold winters and hot summers.

There are more than 100 commercial apple orchards that harvest fruit for sale at retail stores and for customers who want to pick their own.  Minnesota apple growers literally brave hail and high winds to bring us all the "fruits of their labor."

Locally, apples are available, but the harvest is mixed.

"Our year is bad," said Sharon Julian, of Lake Ida Apple Farm. Sharon owns the business, along with her husband Rick.

"The blossoms froze this spring, because we had a late frost," she added.

The result of this is that only the few trees that escaped the frost will offer apples, which is highly unfortunate.

"Most of our early summer apples did not mature because of the frost," Rick added."

"A couple of winters two and three years ago were very hard on the trees, and this year we had frost."

But all is not lost.

"We always have zucchini and cucumbers and squash," Sharon said, which Rick noted are "all looking good."

"We'll have late season apples," Sharon added.

Rick said that: "The Haroldson and the Northern Light and the Harold Red all bloomed."

"Those three will have quite a few apples."

Adversity is no stranger to Lake Ida Apple Farm, which has had trouble in previous years.

"Some years we've been hit by hail, and that doesn't help us much," Sharon said.

In spite of some rough seasons, Lake Ida Apple Farm is continuing to feature its produce at the Lakes Area Farmer's Market, located in Detroit Lakes, every Tuesday and Saturday during the summer and fall, and is finding success there.

"It's been a good experience," Rick said.

"There's been a lot of produce, a lot of vendors."

People are welcome to pick apples, and buy other produce, straight from the farm if they wish, too.

"Come towards the end of Sept." Rick said, but warns the public to "call first to make sure there are apples available to pick."

Lake Ida Apple Farm is located in Lake Park, and can be reached at (218)-532-3025.

Another local place to get homegrown apples and produce is Maple Hills Orchard, located in Frazee and open through October.

Maple Hills describes itself a "family owned orchard located in lakes country," that offers "Minnesota's favorite apples, pumpkins, squash, sweet corn, fall raspberries, and honey."

Contact Maple Hills at (218)-844-5445.

With apples, timing is everything.

 Apple growers generally have only a few weeks to harvest each variety, and the 2009 harvest included very few fall weekends without rain.

For growers that rely on pick-your-own customers, that makes the 2010 picking season particularly important.

The Minnesota Apple Growers Association publishes a brochure that includes estimated harvest dates.

They estimated the average statewide harvest date for Zestar at Aug. 18 (compared to Aug. 30 last year).  Honeycrisp is estimated to arrive in early to mid-September -- about 5-10 days ahead of schedule.

Rick Kluzak of Wild Fruits Farm, a certified organic apple orchard near Taylors Falls, says the picking season will definitely vary from region to region.

"If there is one message for consumers looking for Minnesota apples this year - it is call ahead and get out early."

Consumers can use the Minnesota Grown Directory at to find an orchard. 

At that site, users can view a description of each of our 100-plus orchards, print directions, and find a phone number to call ahead or link to the orchard website for more information. 

With the widespread interest in local foods, the Minnesota Grown website has hosted more than 110,000 unique visitors so far this year.