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Slim pickings? Hardly

Hailey Stevens was not willing to wait until her parent paid for the apples they picked at Afton Apple this past weekend. She's enjoying a Paula Red apple. Judy Spooner photo

Area apple growers are excited about this fall's bounty.

This year's crop in the St. Croix Valley is "excellent," according to Charlie Johnson, owner of Whistling Well Farm in Denmark Township.

"There's a really nice crop this year," according to the message greeting customers at Apple Junction.

This is welcome news to growers who faced a lean year last season when hail damaged the area's apple crop.

South Washington County orchards are open for business, but apple pickers have a few weeks yet before peak season arrives. This past weekend, Paula Reds, Beacons and McIntosh apples were picked at local orchards.

At Afton Apple, Zestars were also available, but only inside the orchard's apple shack.

Johnson said he also carries Chestnut crab apples and Sweet Tangos, not ready to pick.

The consumer palette has changed over the years, Johnson said.

Customers in past years waited for Cortland, Beacon and McIntosh, he said. Now, they want Honeycrisp.

Customers determine what trees growers plant, he said. Johnson said he has many more Honeycrisp trees than in the past.

There is a lot more to do than just buy apples at area orchards as the season gets under way.

In addition to riding a hay wagon into the orchard to pick apples, all of the orchards feature other activities and items to buy. There is a play area and petting zoo at Afton Apple and dig-your-mums at Whistling Well Farm.

As the season winds down toward Halloween, there will also be pumpkins available for sale.

For information on apples and activities, call, or go to growers' we