Where can you go to participate in some favorite fall activities, such as apple picking, a hayride, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, and wandering through a corn maze? You can head on over to Johnny Appleseed’s Farm in Ellington, Connecticut for all of this and more. The U-Pick apple orchard, located at 231 Somers Road (Rte. 83) in Ellington, was originally planted in 1977. In 1989, current owners Ken and Kim Shores took over the business, and have since replaced many of the older trees, and created a whole new orchard on Schoolhouse Road, also in Ellington. The two actually met while working at the orchard, and have put in many long days turning the farm into the bustling business it is today. The farm has a total of 60 acres of dwarf trees, bearing 14 different varieties of apples, from McIntosh and Macouns to Cortlands and Honeycrisps. Late season apples include the Red and Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Empires and the Idareds.
In addition to their apples, they have 35 acres of easy-to-reach peach trees, bearing 11 varieties. Who knew there were that many different types of peaches? “They’re all juicy and delicious,” says Kim. “Unlike apples, I think the different peaches all taste very similar. The trick is to let them ripen on the tree. That makes them juicy and full of flavor,” she says. The peach season usually runs from early August to mid-September.
The Shores also grow many of the vegetables they sell at their stands, as well as “tons of pumpkins.” Adding even more color to the season are hundreds of their own hardy grown mums. All of the trees in their orchards are easy to reach, so no climbing or ladders are necessary. The orchards are also handicap accessible.
A typical workday for the Shores goes something like this: “Get up at 4:00 am and drive into Hartford to the regional market to load up on things we don’t grow ourselves. Back to the store to unload, then reload to go to our other store. During the day there is mowing, picking, washing, cleaning, helping out at the stores, other field work, painting, you name it! A quick bite to eat then home to check emails, phone messages, do paperwork, and pay bills.” The hardest part of the job, according to Kim, is working for 7 days a week for 6 months. “It’s physically demanding and no one here is young anymore,” she says. At their busiest times, they hire about 25 to 30 employees, who are all considered family.
While acknowledging that this summer was a “very challenging season…no crop likes it so hot and dry,” the Shores love working outdoors. Also, Kim adds, “mornings when the sun is coming up and you’re out there working is the best feeling!”
Johnny Appleseed’s is now offering their U-Pick pumpkins, complete with a hay ride (yes…wear your masks for the ride) and a corn maze, designed with the youngsters in mind. Head to the apple orchards at the 231 Somers Road (Rte. 83) location to access the pumpkin picking fun.
Even if you’re not interested in “picking your own” anything, a visit to one of the farm stands is well worth your while! The charming stores carry a wide assortment of freshly picked produce, as well as Connecticut made breads, delicious frozen pies, local honey, and food items such as salsa, jam, pickled beets, and pickles from Kitchen Kettle Village in Amish country, along with locally pressed apple cider. There are even craft and gift items from local artisans.
The approaching holidays bring other seasonal items to the stores, such as Christmas trees, wreaths, kissing balls, and winter logs. Both stores are open until just before Christmas. The retail stores are located at 185 West Road (Rte. 83) in Ellington, Connecticut and 244 Hartford Turnpike (Rte. 30) in Tolland, Connecticut. They are open daily at 9:00 am. Closing times vary throughout the season.
The farm’s website offers a wealth of information, including directions, a “know your apples/peaches” informational guide, and even recipes, including “Mom-Mom’s Apple Crisp.” Mom-Mom is Kim’s maternal grandmother, Pieta, who was “a great cook who lived to be 99!”
For farm and store information, and current hours, call 860-875-1000. Website is www.johnnyappleseedfarmct.com