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When the air begins to cool and the leaves start to turn, it’s time to head outside and get picking. Apple picking, that is. Apple season in Maryland begins in late summer and lasts all the way into November, and it is prime time for family fun.

Here in Harford County, a couple of farms welcome visitors of all ages to pick their own apples — and do a whole lot more.

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“Apple picking is a lively experience,” says Jana Shaw, who, along with her husband Barron, runs Shaw Orchards in White Hall. It’s much more, she says, than simply grabbing fruit from a tree. From hayrides and photo ops to learning about the fruit, there’s plenty to do while you’re on the farm.

Go for a ride

At Shaw Orchards, which is open to visitors on autumn Saturdays and a few Fridays, the picking experience starts with a hayride. “A tractor-driven wagon takes you out to the field,” Shaw says. “We provide the baskets and you ride the wagon, then can pick together as a family.”

Hayrides are also an integral part of the experience at Lohr’s Orchard, a 91-year-old orchard in Churchville. There, hayrides shuttle visitors out to the orchard for apple-picking and to a pumpkin patch. The rides run on Saturdays and Sundays from the last weekend in September through October.

Educate yourself

Orchard visits offer great opportunities to learn about the diversity of apples that grow locally.

Different types of apples ripen at different times of year, explains Shaw. “It starts with Gala, which is an early fall favorite,” she says.

Other popular varieties grown at Shaw include Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, Nittany, Crispin and Pink Lady. One of Jana Shaw’s favorites is Cameo, a crispy and juicy apple that peaks in mid-October and is uncommon to find in grocery stores.

Branch out

During apples’ long growing season, from late summer through late fall, local orchards have other seasonal produce available for picking (and buying already picked).

Additional fall produce includes pears and grapes in September and pumpkins through November. Shaw also has a rare treat: fall raspberries.

Create and capture the moment

Candace Pearce, who operates Lohr’s Orchards with her husband Darryl, says families coming to the orchard to pick apples might be continuing a longtime family tradition — or starting a new one.

“This current generation is giving their children the chance for an outing on the farm to pick their own product. In today’s times, many haven’t had that chance,” she says. “And many enjoy coming to the farm to keep a tradition they’ve started in their family.”

Orchards are also prime locations to capture those traditions — whether old or new — for posterity.

“The setting is picturesque,” says Shaw of her family’s 200-acre farm. She’s spotted many casual photo shoots and has even seen families arrive at the orchard with a professional photographer in tow.

Grab a bite

At Shaw, there are picnic tables available for lunching; Shaw says guests often take advantage of the pretty location to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy with their families.

Even if you don’t bring lunch, local orchards have treats, like apple cider donuts, and drinks available.

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Both Shaw and Lohr’s sell fresh-pressed cider that is ideal to enjoy with your lunch or to take home and sip chilled or heated and mulled with cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

Lohr’s apple cider donuts, which are made using the orchard’s fresh-pressed cider, are especially popular.

Children pick fruit at Lohr's Orchards.
Children pick fruit at Lohr's Orchards. (LLOYD FOX / Baltimore Sun)
Shop ‘til you drop

Apple-picking comes with a built-in party favor: baskets of ripe red and green apples. But both Shaw and Lohr’s also have market shops with additional items available, from other types of produce to local jams to seasonal pies.

Shopping on the farm is the ultimate way to “buy local,” notes Greg Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford.

“There’s a huge push to buy local and a resurgence of the pick-your-own trend,” Pearce says. “That’s helping encourage younger people to head out to the farms.”

Take the long way home

The journey to and from the farm can be just as enjoyable as time in the orchard. “You can take the family out and have this experience, traveling through Harford County’s rolling hills with scenic views. It’s hard to beat,” Pizzuto says.

Pizzuto suggests framing your drive around Harford County’s Barn Quilt Trail. Farms and other businesses around the county are displaying quilts painted on wood and mounted on the side of barns. “It’s like a treasure hunt” to find them all, he says. (For more information about where to find the quilts, visit barnquiltsofharfordcounty.com.)

Where to pick:

Lohr’s Orchard. 3212 Snake Lane, Churchville. Retail market is located at 3301 Churchville Road, Aberdeen. 410-836-2783. lorsorchard.com

Shaw Orchards. 5594 Norrisville Road, White Hall. 410-692-2429. shaworchards.com

More fall farm fun

While only a couple of spots have orchards for onsite apple-picking, many Harford County farms host fun activities during the fall months. Other local farms open to the public include:

Benjamin’s Landing at Lowe Farms (benjaminslanding.com): Benjamin’s Landing in Pylesville grows and sells gourds and offers workshops on crafting with gourds.

Brad’s Farm Market (bradsfarmmarket.com): Brad’s in Churchville is a regular field trip destination and hosts numerous autumn activities including corn and straw mazes, a pumpkin patch and hayrides.

Harman Farm (harmansfarm.com): During the fall, Harman’s has hayrides, a pumpkin patch, a straw maze, and plenty of pumpkins, gourds, squash and Indian corn for purchase.

Hawks Hill Farm (facebook.com/Hawks-Hill-Farm-293320325489/): Located in Street, Hawks Hill is a hotbed of activity. During the fall, the farm sells pumpkins and hosts fall festivities, including a corn maze; the barn is available for rental and the farm hosts field trips, parties and fun festivals all year long. Falling Branch Brewery is also located on the property.

Jones Produce Farm (jonesproducefarm.com): Pick your own pumpkins at Jones Family Farm in Edgewood, or even get a head start on shopping for Christmas greens. Jones also hosts field trips including tractor hayrides and walking tours.

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