LAKE CRYSTAL — Apple picking season is coming to a close later than usual as few fruit are left on the trees at Welsh Heritage Farms as the owners rev up for pie season and changing over trees.

"Every year is going to be unique and different. This is the 36th year and this season started early" said Larry Harbo, founder of Welsh Heritage Farms. "The later varieties, like the Haralson, are some of the best crop I've seen." 

Owner Tim Harbo said this year was a good growing year for apples because of the mix of warm weather days and heavy rain. The shop at the farm is still selling fresh apples and both sweet and hard cider through November, and Sunday was its fifth annual pumpkin carving contest. 

On Sunday afternoon the parking area near the shop on the farm was full as customers bought fresh cider, fruit and baked goods. 

It takes about 33 apples to make 1 gallon of apple cider, Tim said. He tries to use at least five or six different types of apples in each batch to balance taste. Starting in August and finishing up in October, the apple cider changes as each apple variety becomes ripe and is picked from the trees.

"Typically we would be finished up with picking, but with the good water we are still finishing up," Larry said. "Typically we don't get into November, but we might this year."

Larry said part of the delay is due to a freeze that happened just after the trees bloomed this year, which did a little bit of surface damage to some of the apples. 

After the last of the more than 20 varieties of apples, ranging from McIntosh to Honeycrisp to a new type called Pizazz, are picked they will then start fermenting next year's hard cider and preparing for the busy holiday season at the Cheese and Pie Mongers shop in St. Peter, Tim said.

"It gets pretty crazy around the holidays with people buying pies," Tim said. "Every year we get a few more asking for pies for weddings too." 

This year the orchard will also replace about 50 of its trees with more than 100 dwarf trees. The dwarf trees are smaller and easier to take care of than full sized trees. They can be planted closer to one another and reduce the hazards of picking from tall trees, Tim said. 

Larry said between 20 and 25 bushels of apples, about 2,000 apples, are peeled for use in the bakery at the farm and the pie shop in St. Peter every week, another several bushels are used for pressing into cider and the rest are sold fresh.  

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