Picking Apples in Santa Cruz

Apple harvest 2011. Photos by Frog Mom

Back-to-school usually means apple season and last week I was dying to pick fresh apples off the tree to make apple pancakes. However Bay Area u-pick apple farms usually mean a Sonoma trip around Sebastopol or Healdsburg and I was too lazy to go across that big red bridge and drive another 60 or 70 miles. When I heard about the u-pick apple orchards of California Polytechnic State University north of Santa Cruz, to Santa Cruz we drove! Judging by the 22 lbs of apples we jammed in the car, I’d say the trip was a crunchy juicy success.

This is it. Photo by Frog Mom

When we turned onto Swanton Road past the famed Swanton Berry Farm barn, I looked at my odometer. The website said 4.6 miles from Highway 1. Through windy roads we drove and passed several farms but none that looked like an apple orchard. After mile 4 I started getting worried but around a bend we found it. It was the smallest and most laid-back apple orchard I’d ever seen.

A project of the Swanton Pacific Ranch, the 2-acre orchard is a working ranch where students learn the ropes of certified organic crops on a backdrop of redwoods and grasslands. Of students there were none, it was Sunday after all. The roadside was amazingly quiet. Just us and a car that was leaving. We pushed the chicken wire gate and let ourselves in. Nobody to greet us, the entrance is basic but it works: a modest shed with a scale and a money box on the honor system. Welcome to the wonderful world of Cal Poly apple orchards!

That one or that one? Photo by Frog Mom

Fortunately I had tote bags in the back of the car because there are no bags either. At $1.75/lb of organic apple in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have it all. We quickly saw that only the first 4 rows of apples were ripe for the picking and initially thought “Is that it?” 22 lbs later, I was happy that was it.

The great plus for kids is that all the apples grow on dwarf trees so they’re easily accessible for pint-size apple pickers. The 12 apple varieties mature between August and November and last Sunday we had a choice between Royal Gala, .

Picking apples! Photo by Olivier

My 6-year old had taken her knit doll along so when I asked her if would help to pick apples, she offered a lame excuse to taste apples by herself. “Mom I can’t, I’m busy with my dolly.” So much for bringing woolly companions on expeditions. Fine, I’ll ask the other girl then.

Fortunately my 7-year old has a knack for picking fruit. Not just apples. She’s a skilled blackberry, raspberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant, fig, apricot, peach and any-fruit picker. I didn’t even have to ask, she was already back with her arms full of yellow apples. “Where do I put them?” she asked. Phew, it was going to be quicker than by myself.

I’m not sure it’s proper picking etiquette but we tasted as we went. Some of the varieties looked “unripe” to our untrained eyes and if we were going to come back with too many apples, they better be good. You know what? They were delicious! On the tart side for sure, but I like tartness in fruit.

The small juicy red apples of the Royal Gala variety won our heart for best apple to eat. Just the perfect snack size for a kid lunch box.

 

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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