It’s apple season in Southern California, and if this year is anything like 2020, Stone Pantry Orchard in San Bernardino County is in for a treat.
“Last year during COVID was actually our best year,” says Stone Pantry Orchard owner Freeman House.
House has been in the apple farming business for more than three decades and attributes the good luck from last year to the fact that nothing else was open.
“Disneyland was closed. You couldn't go to a movie. You couldn’t go to the beach. So we offered a good healthy outdoor experience. … We have nine acres so … there’s plenty of room,” says House.
He’s hoping this year will prove that the apple business is growing. The first two weeks in October are usually the busiest, and they operate until Thanksgiving or when all the apples are picked.
Farms specializing in pumpkin patches and apple orchards did especially well during the pandemic, when Californians looked for outdoor activities to get away from lockdowns.
Why wildfires can be good and bad for apples
However, fall means fire season, and last year wasn’t too kind to the apple-growing region of Oak Glen, where House’s orchard is located. The aptly named Apple Fire burned more than 33,000 acres, and the El Dorado Fire, sparked by a gender reveal, burned more than 22,000 acres nearby.
For Freeman, the bigger threat has to do with water. Last year, fire crews conducted a controlled burn east of his property all the way down to Cherry Valley. “There’s nothing left to burn,” says Freman.
He’s more worried about rain and the potential flooding that could come with it. “Water is far more destructive than fire,” he explains.
Plus, he says ashes actually make apples taste better. “The ashes that came down on the soil actually improve the soil. ... Adding carbon to the soil is one of the best things you can do.”
How to get ready for your apple-picking trip
If you are heading to the Stone Pantry Orchard this time around, you’ll need to bring a few essentials. “Good shoes. … Wear a hat. Bring sunblock and money,” says House.
They charge $3 per pound for apples, and if you fill a five gallon bucket, you can press your own cider there. You can also pick wild blackberries, pears, and pumpkins.
House also has tips for apple picking: Find an apple that’s fully colored, like a Red Delicious, and twist (not pull) it off the tree.
“The apple grows from what's called the spur wood year after year, so we try to keep that intact and twist it,''he says.
Four other popular places near Oak Glen to pick apples:
Riley’s Farm: Check out the pastries and pies.
Los Rios Ranchos: You can also ride a tractor here.
Willowbrook Apple Farm: Press your own apple cider.