IPSWICH — Thousands of Bay State residents bit into Ginger Golds, Honeycrisps, McIntoshes, and Galas over the weekend, visiting area orchards to pick their share of a bumper crop of apples created by this year’s favorable growing conditions.
Last year, many apple trees blossomed early during a freak March heat wave, then froze when temperatures dropped, making for a difficult growing season. But this year has turned out to be almost ideal, local growers said, only complicated by dry conditions that could be overcome by irrigation.
“The crop this year is fantastic, and we’ll be picking through the middle of October,” Lisa Shea, events coordinator for Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, said by phone Sunday before dashing off to deal with crowds of apple-pickers.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources said last week that crops at the state’s nearly 370 apple orchards were ready for picking a little earlier than usual this year, with some growers reporting fruit above average in size.
At Russell Orchards in Ipswich on Sunday, families and couples packed hayrides into the orchards and lined up to buy homemade apple cider and cider doughnuts fresh from the fryer.
Cambridge resident Georgia Foley, 3, was perched on the shoulders of her father, Keith, chomping down on her second apple of the day, a Ginger Gold.
“I already had a juicy one, too,” she said.
Big brother Colin, 6, described plans for the apples they picked at the orchard, which Keith Foley and wife Maria, both 39, have been visiting since before the children were born.
“Sometimes we make pies, and sometimes we just eat them like we’re at an apple farm,” Colin Foley said.
Keith Foley said this year’s crop was impressive, and he was glad the family came early in the season.
“They are huge, and it’s kind of nice because they don’t look picked over at all,” he said.
Nearby, Donavin and Uche Pugliese of Dorchester had just finished filling a bag with the help of their 16-month-old son Elijah, already making his second visit to the orchard.
“It’s a new family tradition,” said Uche Pugliese, 33, who said they had taken several photos as Elijah picked his very first apple. “It’s a lot of fun to come up as a family.”
In the barn that houses the orchard’s store, Hamilton residents Nathan Fleming and Bib Sinha watched as their daughter, Mira, 6, selected cider to take home — a gallon jug for her father and a child-size one for herself.
Fleming said they have been coming to the orchard for three years, and he was especially impressed with the size and quantity of the apples this year.
“The trees are absolutely loaded, and they’re all really big,” Fleming, 35, said.
Outside, Newburyport resident Josh Moriarty, 35, watched as his daughters Maggie, 2, and Abby, 3, played.
“I’m building a pumpkin patch house!” Abby proclaimed as she pushed several pumpkins into a cluster.
Moriarty said apple-picking at Russell Orchards was a tradition his parents began when he was growing up in Topsfield and one that continued Sunday as three generations of the family gathered there.
“It’s a great fall activity, especially early fall when it’s still warm out,” he said. “Everybody’s having a blast.”