“Pick Your Own” At Hickory Hill Orchards: A Fall Tradition
While many are still in a summer state-of-mind, ready or not, fall is coming. Soon, crisper air and colored leaves will signal the start of autumn months. With it, Hickory Hill Orchards in Cheshire is preparing for weekend crowds, families, school children, and eager home bakers ready to pick and pluck succulent peaches and crisp apples.
The orchard, which consists of 33-acres of land, has been operated by the Kudish family since 1977. Farm Manager Charles Beasley discovered his passion for farming as an apprentice at Hickory Hills, where he began to learn about farming and agriculture. He was a natural for the work, and after only one year he was promoted to Farm Manager. In this role, Beasley not only maintains all of the crops, but also manicures the 30+ acres the orchards sit on. When he’s not in the fields, Beasley is at home in Hamden, reading and learning as much as possible about farming and crop cultivation. “I like the smaller scale. It’s easier to manage and feels like a more personal experience with the orchard.”
Aside from apples, Hickory Hills also grows tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, peppers, kale, nectarines, peaches, pumpkins, and gourds. Currently, Hickory Hills grows almost exclusively organic vegetables. Beasley is committed to growing and harvesting sustainable crops with minimal chemicals. He explains that older farming practices involve spraying “by the calendar” – by date, rather than by need – however, he pays attention to the population of crops within an orchard and only sprays when the horticulture faces potential risk for crop damage, particularly from the spread of disease and bacteria. Beasley partially credits the health of the orchard to the diversity of apples grown on the property, interspersed with pumpkins and gourds, which limits the opportunity for any specific pest to flourish.
Hickory Hills sells any grade-2 or “second” apples (anything that has been affected by rot, is misshapen, bruised, bug bites, etc.) to local chefs. “Restaurants who buy their apples from a wholesaler are paying a higher price for a perfect looking apple. But they don’t actually need to put those apples on a shelf.” Beasley has approached restaurants, offering to sell them grade-2 apples, since he says they’ll be cutting and baking the apples, or otherwise destroying their outward appearance before they ever arrive on a table. In addition to chefs, Hickory Hill Orchards also supplies seconds to New England Cider Company, a hard cider company based in Wallingford, as well as baking companies, and restaurants. “The ultimate goal is no waste,” says Beasley.
Beasley notes one of the challenges of growing apples is the temperamental weather conditions. While a light, overnight frost can benefit apples, picking too soon after can potentially bruise them. “If you have an apple tree in your backyard, then that’s okay, it can wait. But when you have an acre of McIntosh apples that are starting to fall, you have no choice but to pick them,” even in less than ideal conditions.
Inside the orchard’s country store, customers can find Hickory Hill Orchards’ own produce in addition to assorted baked goods from Cheshire Baking Company, loaf breads from Sweet Maria’s Bakery in Waterbury, apple cider doughnuts, and an array of jams, jellies, syrups, and cider reductions. The southwestern part of the property features a pond where Beasley has added picnic tables for families to sit and enjoy the fruits of their picking labors. He doesn’t want the orchard to be a quick stop for individuals to simply gather a couple of pounds of produce, but rather a setting where families and bakers can enjoy the view, take photos, have a picnic, and absorb the quintessentially Connecticut landscape.
Hickory Hills first “pick-your-own” of the season opened to the public on August 18th, and will continue throughout fall. The orchard boasts over 20 varieties of apples, including fan favorites like the Roxbury Russet, Gala, Ginger Gold, and, of course, McIntosh, as well as four varieties of heirloom apples. For more information, hours, and details about their upcoming 40th anniversary, visit them online.
- Hickory Hills Orchards: 351 South Meriden Road (Route 70), Chesire; 203-272-3824; HickoryHillOrchards.com