Apple orchard season is the best season. As a parent, I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking. It’s the perfect opportunity to get outside, enjoy the beautiful fall weather and fill a day with activities that don’t include screen time. This is the definition of winning as a parent.
Over Labor Day weekend, we took our second (now annual) trip to Luce Line Orchard, a family-run orchard in Watertown, Minnesota. It was jam-packed with activities for the whole family and was the perfect way to break up a house project that was taking longer than we’d like and get some fresh air. We first ventured there in 2020. At that time, we didn’t realize we were taking advantage of all the varieties of early-season apples (in addition to beating the crowds that come later in the season). During our first visit, we chose to pick our own apples. This year, we took advantage of the many other activities and grabbed some MinnesotaGrown.com apples from their darling store on our way to the car (plus the best smelling candle).
Did you know there are early season apple varieties? They let you enjoy local apples about a month earlier than everyone’s favorite, the Honeycrisp. AND they are delicious! Our family loves to make homemade apple sauce and apple crisp. And, when we have a kitchen again, we’ll be ready with early season apples to create tasty treats.
3 early season apple varieties
Visit your favorite orchard, farmer’s market or grocery story to find:
- First Kiss – The newest University of Minnesota early-season variety is a Honeycrisp-cross available up to four weeks before Honeycrisp apples ripen. It’s an incredibly crisp, lightly tart, and aromatic apple, and it can be stored for up to five months.
- SweeTango – A Honeycrisp–Zestar! cross, this apple is known for its sweet and tart flavor. Developed by the University of Minnesota and first available in 2009, SweeTango apples have explosive flavor, crisp texture, and juiciness in every bite. Everything you want in a freshly-picked apple.
- Zestar! – This apple offers its delicate crispness, juicy texture, and zesty flavor with a hint of brown sugar. Developed by the University of Minnesota and introduced in 1999, this apple has a crisp texture and good storage life…up to two months in the refrigerator.
In addition to apples, we took advantage of all of the fun activities: hay bails for climbing, fun games including an apple slingshot, farm animals everywhere, a corn pit, walking trail, and kids’ train ride, not to mention the things we skipped including a corn maze and hayride. It was a day filled with the quintessential fall activities, and we are still enjoying the fruits of the visit.
It was truly the best kind of day and weekend. So much fun and fresh air, mixed with time out and about as a family. We’ll definitely be back and love our new tradition of visiting the apple orchard early in the season. Did you know Labor Day weekend is the quietest weekend at Luce Line Orchard, and it still felt plenty busy? And did I mention parking is easy? That’s important to me too.
Stories of support & family
One of my favorite things about local orchards and any business for that matter is the stories of building and growth. Terri and her husband purchased the property that is now Luce Line Orchard in 2004, and it needed a lot of work. They planted the first apple trees in 2007. It was several more years before it opened to the public and was subsequently struck by a tornado just a few years later, taking out half the apple trees. You’ll find the whole family working at the orchard each weekend, including their children and grandchildren.
Visit MinnesotaGrown.com to find an orchard near you. Don’t forget to call ahead for hours and available varieties to make sure you find what you’re looking for.