After 21 years of running our PYO farm it’s occurred to us there isn’t a lot of information out there on PYO farm etiquette. “What’s the connection between farming and manners?” It’s simple. When you visit a PYO farm you might approach it just as you visit a home of a friend or family member. Good guests are cooperative and respectful of others’ rules and customs — and appreciate the hospitality of their host.
It’s the same for PYO farms. We work hard all season — and we welcome our customers when it’s time for harvest. That said, there are some basic rules and do’s & don’ts that should be observed at Autumn Hills, or any PYO farm.
First time visitor? Check for rules. Some farms have published rules like: “Pay for what you pick” and “No climbing trees.” Other farms choose not to publish but assume that customers will be respectful of the plants/trees and be honest about what they harvest.
Autumn Hills PYO Do’s and Don’t’s
(We tried to keep our Don’t list to a minimum, as we, ourselves, don’t like a lot of rules).
…pick crops that are not featured as PYO during your visit. PYO does not mean pick EVERYTHING that is growing. Our season is long and we feature only a few crops each week.
…pick fruit and abandon it. If you picked it you are responsible for buying it and taking it home.
tear branches or cut trees with knives or saws. The trees are our capital and future.
…bring your pet. We are not set up to accommodate pets and there is very little shade in parking areas, so please leave your pet at home.
…fly your drone or ride your mountain bike into the orchard. (Note: Permission is needed for any activities not directly associated with PYO.)
…enjoy the scenery and the spectacular view
…bring a picnic
…talk to us about varieties, recipes, what’s good this week
…bring your own bag (but we have bags if you need them)
…be courteous and respectful — as you would be visiting the home of a new friend.
Come see us soon!
Winter Woes and now Summer Drought??? posted June 30, 2016
Well, the weather has been challenging this year, to say the least. The winter started out very mild and continued with high temps into January. Just when we were worrying that the trees hadn’t gone dormant — as they usually do in the winter months, a record Alberta Clipper came our way in mid-February with temps below -20 degrees and sustained temps of -15 throughout the day. We worried about the peaches; and rightly so.
Peach buds lie quietly just under the tender new-growth bark having formed the summer before. After a long winter’s rest, they should burst out around mid-April to form flowers and eventually the fruit. Peaches do not tolerate extreme cold temperatures – say under -15. Unfortunately most of Massachusetts was visited by very extreme temps for about 48 in February. Then on April 4, we had a really hard frost, just when buds were emerging and about to burst. Come April 6 or so, there were no live buds on the trees. We’re not sure if it was one or both of these weather events, but it was enough to put every one of our peach trees (and most others in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania) on hold — at least this year.
Now, we’re at the end of June, and we have very dry conditions. Apples and grapes are tough, but we worry about our raspberries and blueberries as they are relatively new crops for us. We also have several hundred new apple trees that need to be hand watered during dry spells. We are currently watering and irrigating and will continue to do so through July if the weather remains as dry as June was.
Fortunately, farmers are a hopeful lot. When things go wrong — and they often do through no fault of our own — there is always next year. For us: peaches, next year; Japanese plums next year; apricots and nectarines, next year, too. Meanwhile we carefully tend our large vegetable garden and focus on the apples — as they represent most of the “eggs in our basket” this year!
What a crazy growing season! posted October 16, 2015
It’s a bumper crop for most farmers in Massachusetts and other New England states. Perfect weather conditions during blossom time in early May followed by a good amount of rain in June started us off. Then many perfect, dry days through the summer with a few blasts of heat around Labor Day and early September. Some stormy days interrupted the summer drought fest. I recall one day in August with intensely dark skies, tornado warnings and a good amount of hail activity throughout the state. Luckily, the really unstable air passed just south of our drumlin ridges in Groton though neighboring towns were hit hard by hail.
As temperatures rose in September it’s as if thing slowed down a bit on the farm. Apples approaching maturity react to cool nights — but in early September we had temps in the 90s day after day and many warm nights in the 60s or 70s. Early apples seemed to stall out and everything seemed a bit late in ripening. The mid-season apples were a bit slow to come round as well. So that leaves us now with a fantastic assortment of apples for picking that are tasty, sweet and all ready to be sampled, compared and appreciated for their shared characteristics or their individual attributes. Its’ the best of our harvest season rolled into a few short weeks!
The Orchard Map posted October 2, 2015
For years we struggled to help people find their way around the farm. We have so many varieties and with over 50 rows of trees, plus the rugged terrain, it can be confusing at best. We post signs at the start of the row — and each row consists of one variety (in most cases). Still, it’s easy to get turned around when in the midst of hundreds of trees of different varieties.
In 2012, Peter, AHO’s farmer, made a very detailed graph of the entire property. He shared it with his brother Dug Morton, a talented and imaginative artist, and together they came up with a plan to paint an orchard map. The map showed up in the fall of 2013 and it’s been admired and scrutinized by virtually every customer who comes to the farm whether they are looking for some specific variety or simply just getting a bird’s eye view of the farm.
The map shows the lines of trees and their relationship to the buildings on the farm. The key on the right separates the varieties into Early Season, Mid-Season and Late Season. This makes it easy for us to target specific areas and varieties according to the season — and thus a most useful tool by which everyone, including the staff, can navigate to find exact destinations.
Because we are constantly revising our tree schemes and replanting where trees have died (or been knocked over by tractors or eaten by aggressive critters), the map is increasingly out of date. We hope to revise it for the 2016 season. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic customer suggested we develop a mobile app to help people find their way around the farm. Well that seems like a good idea but I think we need to update the analog version that’s on the barn wall before we start on the digital app!
DIY Pack out and Press for Cider Makers posted September 29, 2015
If you are looking to fill a carboy or two, we have a small press here and will provide it for your use. It’s a DYI operation as you bring your own washed and sanitized carboy or fermenting bucket, funnel, and two receptacles for catching/pouring juice.
You pack out, run the press and clean up. It takes about 1-2 hours from start to finish if your pressing 5-7 gallons.
We can only do this for folks who are fermenting their juice, as we don’t sell unpasteurized cider. Contact us if you’re interested. We have lots of good apples plus some pears that can make a good cider mix.
Posted September 25, 2015
Artistic Pumpkin Carving! posted October 25, 2014
Joe, who’s been working at the farm, doing a great job helping with field work and picking, showed up on Saturday with an amazing object. His friend, Ariane Koutsoukounis, is an artistic pumpkin carver. She carves for the famous Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island. Ariane marked up the pumpkin with a pen and then carved out some of the shell to make all the highlights in the montage. I’m not sure if we can preserve it for posterity, but what a lovely thing to have for this season. We had a great time showing it off this weekend and watching the reaction of customers when they realized this pumpkin was actually a work of art!
October 10, 2014
We had a chance to drive around the state this weekend making a few deliveries which took us further afield than our usual routes. We traveled down to Cape Cod and then out west to the Pioneer Valley by the Connecticut River.
We are happy to say that the most beautiful foliage views are right here in Groton — and on our own Chicopee Row. The drive from Groton Center is bathed in oranges and reds while the color further west in the state was sadly very limited. We expected much more color in the west, but it there was only the occasional tint of fall. The Cape, with all its scrub pine, was still very green — but then the views on Cape Cod are all about places where the seas meet the shore.
Driving back to our neighborhood, we were delighted to observe fall at its finest! The color in Groton is spectacular at this very moment. So lucky that it coincides with a good harvest and a long weekend of predicted fair weather after the Saturday showers.
September 19, 2014
There’s one last box of peaches in the cooler. It’s been a good peach season but they’ll be gone after today’s farmer market. It usually makes me sad to see the last of the peaches. It’s my personal “end of summer” marker. Fortunately, this year we have so many Italian plums and Concord grapes that I don’t have a minute to contemplate the inevitable passage of time. There’s tons of other fruit that needs to be picked, packed and taken to market.
We’re looking forward to seeing some of our jam making and canning customers who come by to get plum and grapes in September. Here’s a great article about Concord grape jam and grape juice by food writer/photographer Heidi Murphy. The on-location photographs were taken at Autumn Hills in 2011.
Pick your own is open after a mad scramble to get ready for visitors. Our apple crop is very good this year, though the local agricultural grape vine leads us to believe that some other farms have smaller crops than usual. Paula Reds have already been picked. We had to get them off the trees in that early September heat — and we are getting ready to harvest Macs and Cortlands. Other mid-season varieties are coming along nicely. Our finger tips are stained red from harvesting raspberries. Though we try to keep up, the new vines are producing faster than we can sell them — or eat them! Come help us, if you can! We are open on weekends from 10-5 or weekdays by appointment.
What an extraordinary summer! Good weather for growing and working out in the orchard. The new peach trees have more than doubled in size and the apples are plentiful and big this year. Some growers are expecting a lighter crop this year after last year’s bonanza, but our trees are bearing well this year with good size and color coming on. Our raspberry crop is coming along nicely and we expect a berryful fall harvest! Can’t wait to see all our pick your own customers in September…!
Early October is time for the Topsfield Fair. Our friend, Kara, grew up going to the fair and convinced us many years ago to exhibit. Well, good ideas often turn into traditions and now, each year we trek up to Topsfield the night before the fair opens with a collection of the best looking fruit we can find in the orchard. We set out the fruit on plates alongside entries from other orchards and hope for the best. It’s fun to look at other farms’ offerings and check out the vegetable exhibits, too.
This year we snagged the grand prize for the Spencer apples as well as four more blue ribbons for Red Corts, Cox’ Orange Pippin, Gala and SunCrisp. There were a bunch of red ribbons, too! Thank you, Kara, for your encouragement and help this year. And BIG thanks to the AHO staff who worked so hard to maintain the orchard, fix machinery, prune, plow, plant, fertilize, pick, pack, deliver… and enable us to come through the season with some of the prettiest, and best tasting apples around!
Harvest time. It’s is such a busy time at the farm. It reminds me of the plate spinner acrobats at the circus. During the week, we run from task to task as there’s just so much to do. Then comes the weekend — when customers and old friends come to climb the hill, pick fruit and spend a nice day with their family or friends in the orchard. We work hard to make sure that every visitor enjoys their time at the farm. The best part about the day is seeing so many people just relaxing, enjoying the scenery and the experience. For us, it’s a time to meet old friends, trade recipes, chat and visit a bit. Then comes Monday, when we go back to our weekday chores of picking, packing, deliveries, mowing and, of course, a farmer’s favorite occupation, worrying about the weather.
What a great run of weather we have had this month! Day after day of sun. Luckily, it’s been a good growing season; the peaches are big and ripening up nicely. The apples seemed bigger earlier in the season — growing fast after each heavy rain. With the latest run of dry weather, the apples growth has slowed a bit — making for good flavor and moderate sizing. Lucky for us, another good apple year!
August is a time for us to catch up and clean up — before the frenzy of harvest starts. Time to mow, and trim, and mow some more. The birds come in good numbers. Crows linger at the tops of the trees, sampling the fruit that sits high on the trees. The bluebirds and the tree swallows are here in numbers, too; feeding on insects they catch in the air — and bringing them to their babies in the nest. The turkeys wander down the rows and peck at the low hanging fruit. They are opportunists for sure, and have the sense to slowly tiptoe away if we get too close.
Lots of repairs and maintenance. Patching up the roof, cleaning up the bunk house, fixing the tractors and mowers. So much to do on a farm; there’s hardly time to take a break.