U-Pick apple orchards

I think there are members on here that have them ? If not I know members here must use them. I am interested in the experience from both sides . What works and what doesn’t. Do people go for the common or well known apples or do they go looking for something different they cant get in stores? Although I have thought about doing this type of thing myself it is a friend of mine that is setting up a U-pick farm and is considering apples as a part of that.


I have always dreamed of doing this as well


We planted our first 36 apple trees for our U-Pick farm in Albion, Maine in the summer of 2011. Those first trees we planted were standard size which some might consider a big mistake, but we wanted a “traditional” looking orchard rather than high density plantings. We also have the time and patience to wait as this orchard will be for semi-retirement/retirement income. We now have 120 apple trees and half are semi-dwarf. We stuck with the 3 most popular varieties in this area because quite frankly we wanted varieties that the public would want to buy.

Those are:

Honeycrisp (60 semi-dwarf, 12 standard)
McIntosh (24 standard)
Cortland (24 standard)


I have about an acre of Bud9 trees we intend to sell U-pick. 200 each 3, 4, 5 years old. The revenue potential is huge but so is the establishment cost. Expect a break even period of 8-10 years. That’s a long wait to get your money back! Lots of alternative crops offer a much shorter BEP - Blackberry, blueberry, peaches and perhaps others. High density apples also require significant knowledge. In my case, the lack of knowledge added several years to my expected BEP.

Below is a good article on high density apple production for NC. In order to hit the yield targets in the paper, you must start with excellent feathered trees which are in short supply and must be ordered several years ahead of time. Then push the trees hard with nitrogen and irrigation to get the space filled quickly. An experienced apple grower may hit the targets if things go well. I have not, but my apples look more promising each year.


Those are very good choices on varieties in my opinion. I would have chose Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, Arkansas Black, Golden delicious, and Jonathan from my limited knowledge on apples if I were making the decision. Would choose those because I know they are other peoples favorites. Again that’s in a perfect world without fire blight. What made you chose Cortland? I believe it was a good decision based on your other two apples I’m just not that familiar with that apple because it’s not grown a lot in this area.


I’m looking at this from about 25 years ago when my children and I picked apples at a u-pick. There are many new varieties out there now that were not available at the time but I’m pretty sure the basics have not changed much. First I was looking for a good experience for my children. They loved walking around looking for special looking apple to pick. Unlike many of us most children like a sweet apple such as gala or mollie in our case. Bill


Variety choices will depend a lot on location. I tried to choose variety that could function in my hot/humid climate. Since I’m in a crummy location for apples I did not attempt to grow any variety known to excel in a much cooler climate.

I like the idea of having some good heritage apples to go with the commercial names that people recognize. Especially ones that tell a good story that folks may find interesting. Perhaps something like “Johnny Appleseed’s apple” or the “Pilgrim’s apple.”


We pick lots of apples from local orchard, the varieties we pick is Fuji for the great taste and long storage. They do have honey crisp but not for u pick.


Thanks for all the replies and keep them coming ! It sounds like his plans have gotten bigger since I was at his place last fall but at that time he was putting in either raspberries or blackberries and also has put in asparagus . I need to talk with him but it has been just phone tag lately. However it sounds like his plans include a variety of crops that will have a shorter BEP. He has a lot of acreage so I doubt he is planning to go with a high density setup . One of the several reason for this topic is he will be needing the trees to plant and I hope to be able to help him out with that .

Thanks Auburn
It sounds like he is focusing on the whole family experience along with providing fresh vegetables and fruit. I know he talked about putting on cider making events at his place and is going to start construction that sounds like it could include a cider press.

One other thing I’d suggest to your friend, and I think it was @blueberrythrill who first made this point in another thread about trying to make a business out of orchard growing: The trend now, and much of the profit, seems to be from tourism/entertainment/activity driven orchards. Things like corn mazes, pumpkin decorating, hay rides, and so on are the things around here that really bring out the crowd. People may be on the line about whether its worth the time and effort to drive to the country to get better apples, but when they can take the kids and make a day of fun out of it then it really seems to help them decide to go for the apples AND the fun for the family. Of course many people like us might only be interested in growing fruit and not in creating some kind of mini-carnival-like atmosphere, but doing the latter might make the former possible and even profitable.


From a point of view of a customer, I love going to PYO orchards. We have several within an hour drive. The “popular” ones are ones that not only offer apples but also offer other attractions for children such as hay rides, pumpkin picking, playground, animals for kids to feed, ect.

Children are what drive many parents, grandparents to PYO. Most people I know like sweet apples. If you can offer fuji, HC, people will love them. The shorter the trees, the easier to pick. Not many PYO offer the heirloom kind. We drive further to a few places that offer them. If you grow them, it could give your potential customers to choose your orchard over others.


I have no doubt that we were typing our posts at the same time and since mine posted only 2 minutes before yours I know you didn’t get to see it…but its really funny how identical our 2 posts are! I’m sure this will help drive home the importance of considering activity driven PYO orchards. Hey Mamuang, great minds think alike, right? :slight_smile:


"Great minds think alike "Absolutely :slight_smile:

I have come to realize that any business that can attract children, will have a good chance to succeed. We don’t buy things for ourselves but spend like crazy for our children and grand children.


I am an apple snob, as my wife would tell you. So I go for a lot of the varieties you will find folks here growing and discussing, especially the early-season varieties. It is a lot easier to head to the U-Pick when it is nice out rather than to bundle up to go out and pick some Enterprise or GoldRush.

Here in my area I think the U-Pick orchards are truly blessed by Honeycrisp and to a similar extent Sweet 16. These two excellent flavored varieties ripen at close to the same time in mid-September right after the weather breaks from summer hot and humid to drier, bright and sunny days and cooler mornings.

I am sure this climatological onset of fall flips the cultural switch in folks heads to pick apples and have cider and apple turnovers etc. In fact while there are still lots of good apples to pick in mid-late Oct. and Nov. the local U-Pick is cutting back on hours by that time. I think that picking main-crop varieties to hit that window is probably important.

The closest U-Pick to me has supposedly 120 varieties, though I am fairly certain some of those are 1 or 2 trees. Of course, that orchard is a great place for a back yard orchardist to evaluate varieties. A plus is that the owner is approachable and even would have let me cut scions (ultimately I felt it was unethical to pursue it further). The current owner came from a MI fruit region and offers peaches and blueberries in the summer from family in MI. They also have a pumpkin patch for Oct. and have Friday night hotdog/burger grills and live music during Sept. All this is to say, they seem to be on top of their stuff…

The other option in apple growing is the CSA and farmers market approach. The benefit there is that the folks I have purchased an apple “share” with can control things like post-harvest storage and sell into December with storage apples.

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Levers101, I’m confused as to how it would be unethical to pursue collecting scions. Was it due to patents or trademarks?


Some clarification is probably in order… It is most a personal feeling I have. If I got scions from him I would be using his trees to make myself not a customer anymore. I don’t suppose there is anything ethically wrong if they are freely given… just a feeling of guilt. I am probably weird…

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We chose Cortland because it is one of the three popular varieties in our area and they thrive in our cold climate. They also have a nice shelf life. They are considered a great utility apple because they don’t brown as quickly as McIntosh.


I’ve talked with people who have U-Pick orchards and children are their bane, the way they treat the trees, yanking the fruit and breaking spurs and branches, running into rows where the fruits aren’t ready for picking

One grower, back when Honeycrisp was less ubiquitous, fenced off the rows where they were growing to keep kids out, the damage was so costly

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Definitely. I am not pleased with parents who let their kids pick carelessly and damage the trees. I sometimes talk to those kids and get “not your business” looks from their parents.

However, I speak from my observation. 8 out of 10 families visting PYO bring kids of various ages. I used to go a few times annually when my kid was young. These days, I am lucky if I could go once a year.