Ripe red apples hung heavy on the trees spread throughout the Apple Works orchard.

The Jonagold, Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious were all ready to pick. Suncrisp, with its orange-red color, were still a few weeks away from harvest, while the Jonamac and Gala trees already had been picked and were mostly bare.

Those fruits, along with 13 other varieties, were sorted in bins and waiting for customers inside the orchard’s country store. Employees waited nearby, ready to offer a description or a taste test to those wondering about a particular type of apple.

“We have a great crop of apples this year. It becomes a matter of just finding enough pickers to get them all in and taken care of,” said Sarah Brown, owner of the Apple Works.

Fall is the pinnacle of year at the Apple Works, where the year’s fruit crop comes to a crescendo. Though certain varieties have been harvest-ready since early August, the majority of the apples are now at the height of color, crunch and flavor.

In celebration, the Trafalgar-based orchard has planned weeks of activities, food — and, of course, fresh grown local produce. The season is a chance for people to learn what a working farm is all about and to rediscover some of the heritage that may have been forgotten.

“I think people still want to get connected to their agricultural background. Somewhere in their family tree, they were on a farm,” Brown said. “It’s been only in the past four or five decades where we stopped being so connected to the farm. It’s in their blood still, and they need to get connected to the harvest.”

With more than 60 apple varieties growing throughout the orchard, the Browns are able to feature longtime standards and exciting emerging new flavors.

The Crimson Crisp is a sugary and full-flavored fruit. Pixie Crunch is juicy, crisp apple that almost melts in your mouth. Both were developed by the cooperative breeding program among Purdue University, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and the University of Illinois to be resistant to scab.

Daybreak Fuji apples are pink-red apples that mature about two months before regular Fujis. This is the first year for Apple Works’ crop of EverCrisps, a sweet and firm fruit.

“The Jonagolds are very, very good this year, and we’re picking Melrose right now,” Brown said. “And we’ve got some very interesting apples coming down the pike that will be in the mix in the next few years.”

The Apple Works has been woven into the fabric of Johnson County for nearly 30 years. Rick and Sarah Brown put in their first trees on the southern quarter of the orchard in 1989, digging holes with a shovel and delicately planting each tree.

The first harvest came two years later. At the time, the Brown family didn’t have a barn or country store on the property, so daughters Alison and Maggie would take orders at the road from passing cars, then run into the field to fill them.

From that simple beginning, the Apple Works has grown into a year-round agritourism attraction.

Bedding plants, perennials, hanging baskets and other flowers are grown in the orchard’s greenhouses, available for people to start planning their own gardens in the spring. Local sweet corn, peaches and melons start appearing in the summer, along with blackberries grown right on the farm.

Baked goods, such as apple dumplings, apple bread and their award-winning double-crust apple pie, are available in the country store along with sauces, salsa, pickled vegetables and other goods.

A shaded picnic area, with gardens, ponds and gazebos, offers a setting to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

But fall is when the orchard truly gets a chance to show off.

The pick-your-own pumpkin patch opens in late September, where families hunt through the vines for the perfect gourd for the season. Sheep and goats let people encounter farm animals up close. Kids can scramble up hay bale mountains, jet down the “super slide” and get lost in the towering patch of bamboo cut into a maze.

Wagons will haul customers out into the orchard to see the different types of trees. Though people can’t pick their own apples, they can find bins filled with more types than they can imagine inside the country store.

“I’m one of those fortunate people who are still deeply rooted in agriculture, and I’m glad I can provide the venue for so that people can get back to the farm at harvest time,” Sarah Brown said.

While the apples and farm activities are the big draw, entertainment and food are also a big part of the Apple Works experience. Food booths sell sandwiches, hot dogs and apple-heavy desserts out on the grounds.

A dog-centric costume contest — Howl-O-Ween — helps raise money for the Humane Society in both Johnson and Brown counties.

Weekend entertainment, ranging from Celtic bands such as Highland Reign to acoustic guitarists such as Exit 99 and Dave Miller, are scheduled throughout October.

“People get sentimental in the fall, and people get reflective, so it’s a neat experience to see people get into that,” Sarah Brown said.

The Apple Works Top 21

Pristine

When are they ripe? Late July

What are they best for? Baking and sauces

Description: Smooth, pale yellow skin with a tart flavor, and fruit that stays firm for up to six weeks in the refrigerator.

Zestar!

When are they ripe? Aug. 4 to 10

What are they best for? Eating out of hand and salads

Description: A pinkish red blush over a cream background, ripening slightly before Gala, with a sweet yet tart flavor.

Ginger Gold

When are they ripe? Aug. 12 to 18

What are they best for? Pies, baking and eating

Description: This apple ripens to a pale clear gold on the tree and has a delightfully crisp, clean and sweet-tart in flavor.

Gala

When are they ripe? Aug. 17 to 28

What are they best for? Pies, sauce and eating

Description: Sweet, yet with a slight hint of tartness, this apple has a pink-orange blush over a pale yellow background that is similar to a peach.

Swiss Gourmet

When are they ripe? Aug. 18 to 30

What are they best for? Pies, baking sauce and eating

Description: A red blushed apple, slightly conic, with a crisp flavor that is pleasantly sweet-tart.

Jonamac

When are they ripe? Sept. 1 to 12

What are they best for? Pies, sauce and apple butter

Description: A large apple with a purple-red blush over a pale green background that has an intensely “apple-y” flavor with a very white, fine grained aromatic flesh.

Honey Crisp

When are they ripe? Sept. 8 to 12

What are they best for? Pies, sauces, baking and eating

Description: A large orange-red striped apple over a yellow background. The flavor can be described as explosively crisp, sweet-tart, and is extremely juicy.

Sweet Sixteen

When are they ripe? Sept. 8 to 16

What are they best for? Baking, sauces and eating

Description: A very complex and uniquely flavored apple with hints of tropical fruit and nuts. The color is red striping over green.

Crimson Crisp

When are they ripe? Sept. 15 to 25

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauce

Description: A striking dark mahogany red apple with an equally striking tart taste and crisp texture, similar to a Jonathan.

Pixie Crunch

When are they ripe? Sept. 15 to 30

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauce

Description: A dark red, medium small apple, unlike any apple you have ever tasted but with a wide appeal.

Daybreak Fuji

When are they ripe? Sept. 15 to 21

What are they best for? Baking, sauce and eating

Description: A version of the traditional Fuji that ripens six to eight weeks earlier. It is a large pinkish-red apple that tastes sweet off the tree.

Jonagold

When are they ripe? Sept. 20 to 27

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauces

Description: A variety developed from the Yellow Delicious and Jonathan apples, it is superior in flavor and juiciness to its parents.

Melrose

When are they ripe? Sept. 25 to 30

What are they best for? Pies, baking and eating

Description: Medium tart with exceptional flavor, juiciness and crispness that stores very well.

Splendour

When are they ripe? Oct. 1 to 10

What are they best for? Baking, sauces and eating

Description: This apple has a richly perfumed, sweet flavor, favored by those preferring little acid.

Suncrisp

When are they ripe? Oct. 5 to 15

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauce

Description: Yellow, tender-skinned and very crisp, this variety is pleasantly but not overwhelmingly tart, sweet enough to appeal to a wide audience.

Golden Russet

When are they ripe? Oct. 7 to 14

What are they best for? Eating

Description: This russeted-skin apples has bronze to green undertones and is one of the Apple Works’ most flavorful varieties, tart off the tree but sweetens in storage.

Cameo

When are they ripe? Oct. 15 to 20

What are they best for? Eating

Description: This apple has right red stripes over cream, with very crisp, sweet-tart and aromatic fruit.

Fuji

When are they ripe? Oct. 15 to 20

What are they best for? Eating

Description: A late, sweet, crisp apple that stays crisp eight months in common refrigeration.

Virginia Gold

When are they ripe? Oct. 15 to 20

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauce

Description: A crisp, juicy, refreshing apple with well-balanced flavor that develops in storage.

Goldrush

When are they ripe? Oct. 25 to 31

What are they best for? Eating, though still good for pies and baking

Description: A yellow gold, freckled apple with a tangy kick. This apple stays for 10 months in common refrigeration, is all-purpose and is a good addition to cider.

Pink Lady

When are they ripe? Nov. 9 to 13

What are they best for? Eating, baking, pies and sauce

Description: A stunning pink red apple with a zesty tart-sweet flavor that keeps 4 months in the refrigerator.

— Information from The Apple Works

At a glance

The Apple Works

Where: 8157 S. 250W, Trafalgar

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Information: apple-works.com

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.