Fall has moved in after a very unusual weather year that has not been good for apple orchards, but has helped produce some good pumpkin crops. Some area farms that open in the late summer and fall have had to make adjustments due to unusual conditions this year, but families can expect to find plenty of fall fun in the region in the coming weeks, from pumpkin picking to petting zoos to haunted hayrides and more.
Mother Nature wasn’t kind to the apple orchards this year as an early warm spell got the orchards into blooming mode, but subsequent freezing temperatures devastated the crops. Farmers were left with a very small crop this year and most farms that offer U-pick in the late summer and early fall, like Mowry’s Fruit Farm in Crown Point or Williams Orchard in LaPorte, were not able to offer that option. While there were still apples for sale, they were pre-picked and the selection wasn’t nearly as big as most years.
Although Garwood Orchard in LaPorte lost about 75 percent of its crop this year, it still managed to open for U-pick. Red and Golden Delicious, Rome and Jonathan apples are still being picked off the trees and they expect a small crop of Granny Smiths to be ready for picking soon. Picking season should be complete during the second week in October.
At County Line Orchard in Hobart, the U-pick apple orchards are a huge part of the business, but like the other farms in the area, the weather left them without enough apples for picking off of their trees. They struck a good compromise. The orchards are still open, so families can still enjoy a hayride out to the rows of trees, but rather than picking from trees, they’re selecting pre-picked apples out of rain gutters spread among the trees. The apples are a mix of those pre-picked from their property and high-quality apples brought in from other small farms. And in the store, there are plenty of Honeycrisp apples for sale, which Ryan Richardson, co-owner and farmer, said are “always the favorite apple variety.”
Besides the apple orchard, there are several other attractions and goodies for families to enjoy at County Line Orchard, such as the apple and pumpkin doughnuts made on site. “One thing the weather can’t affect is our doughnut machine,” Richardson said. “People always think apples are the draw, but we have people who say they come just for the doughnuts. We cook sometimes 14 or 15 hours a day on the busy weekends just to keep up.” They also host wedding receptions and he said a good number of brides do apple doughnuts and cider for the dessert.
County Line also has a pumpkin patch, which opened in late September. While the weather caused problems for apple crops, the dry conditions in recent weeks have been a bonus for the pumpkin farmers. Overly wet conditions aren’t good for pumpkins and increase the likelihood of disease in crops. “The dryness actually helps them,” Richardson said. “We have a really nice pumpkin crop.”
Other fun includes a pumpkin eating dinosaur, musical entertainment on the weekends, and farm animals. There are also two large corn mazes. One is a Ron Santo maze designed in honor of Santo’s election to the Hall of Fame. The other maze has a Pac-Man theme.
Harvest Tyme Pumpkin Patch in Lowell opens for the season on October 6 and they are open weekends only during October. Visitors can take a free hayride out to the 5-acre fields to pick out a pumpkin of their own. Owner Josh Sickinger echoed Richardson’s pleasure with the pumpkin crops. “It’s been a good year,” he said. Harvest Tyme also offers a corn maze, live music on the weekends, and a variety of family attractions.
Norm’s Pumpkin Patch in Lowell is now in its 25th season and Norm Harris’ original hobby of growing one small patch of pumpkins has grown to a large endeavor where hundreds of people line up on weekends to be spooked on the haunted hayrides.
Probably suitable for those ages 8 and up, the ride winds through cornfields with scary creatures emerging along the way. Admission is $7 per person. Pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales are for sale, along with Halloween items in the gift barn and a small playground area.