About the most enthusiasm you'll hear from an orchardist who has had a good year is ''Nothing to complain about." That's how one grower described last year's crop. Apples were everywhere, a bumper crop to be remembered fondly, if rarely repeated. This year has been another story: a somewhat more modest but flavorful crop that survived capricious conditions throughout the growing season.
Climate in this state can be diverse. In the valleys of Western Massachusetts, there was frost on Friday, May 13, says Tom Clark of Clarkdale Orchards in South Deerfield. The trees had just bloomed, and early varieties of apples and blueberries were lost: ''Later varieties, like Spies and Suncrisp, were not as affected," Clark says. A cool, rainy spring may have led to poor pollination. Central Massachusetts growers and those closer to the Cape reported only a slight delay.
A blazing hot summer intensified flavors, so there should be fewer watery apples. Temperatures were high enough that in Massachusetts, growers anxiously awaited the cool nights that bring color to New England's McIntosh apples.
Ultimately, the late warm weather delayed crops, but none will be absent. Jon Clements of the University of Massachusetts Extension Fruit Team, which travels to orchards in the state, reports that everyone was affected differently. ''The season just has a tendency to compress with the later varieties, if it's hot going into September. But by October, everything comes together."
There are plenty of pick-your-own apples, reports Frank Carlson, one of the partners at Carlson Orchard in Harvard. Like other growers, though, Carlson says ''the flavor's good--the quality's good."
All of which means that those who like to harvest their own crop should waste no time in getting to the orchard. As everyone knows, whatever its flavor, an apple tastes best in the place where it was grown. Whether your preference is a stout Mac, a crisp Northern Spy, or that sweet keeper, the Fuji, the season is never long enough.
Before you leave for picking, call the farm. Some have websites so you can check apple varieties and other activities. You can also call the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture (877-627-7476) or go to www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/apple_pyo.htm.
Amesbury: Cider Hill Farm, 45 Fern Ave. (978-388-5525). Daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m. From I-95 take Exit 58B (Amesbury) to Route 110 west. Right onto Elm Street. Right at the rotary on Market Street (Route 150). Go 1 mile. Right on Fern Avenue. Farm on left. www.ciderhill.com.
Berlin: Berlin Orchards, 200 Central St. (978-838-2400). Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mass. Pike west to Route 495 north. Follow Route 495 north to Exit 26 (Route 62). At the end of the ramp, take a left onto Route 62. Follow for about 1/4 mile; farm on right. www.berlinorchards.com.
Bolton: Bolton Spring Farm, 149 Main St. (Route 117) (978-779-2898). Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. I-495 to Exit 27 on Route 117. Go east toward Stow for 2miles; orchard on left.
Bolton: Nashoba Valley Winery Orchard, 100 Wattaquadoc Hill Road (978-779-5521). Daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mass. Pike or Route 2 west to I-495 to Exit 27. Go 1 mile west on Route 117 to Bolton Center, left at the yellow light on Wattaquadoc Hill Road; orchard on left. www.nashobawinery.com.
East Bridgewater: C.N. Smith Farm, 325 South St. (508-378-2270). Thurs.-Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. I-93 south to Route 24 south. Exit 16A (West Bridgewater). Stay on Route 106 about 8 miles. Right onto South Street at the YMCA.
Fitchburg: Apple Barn at Marshall Farm, 340 Marshall Road (978-343-6255). Daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 west to Route 13 north to Route 2A west. Right at lights. Right at blinking light. Follow signs. www.marshallfarm.com.
Groton: Autumn Hills Orchards, 495 Chicopee Row (978-448-8388). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Route 119 to Groton, right on Hollis Street (it turns into Chicopee Row). Orchard on left.www.autumnhillsorchard.com.
Harvard: Carlson Orchards, 115 Oak Hill Road (800-286-3916). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Retail: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 west to Exit 38B. Go 1/4 mile. Right on Poor Farm Road. Follow signs. www.carlsonorchards.com.
Harvard: Doe Orchards, 327 Ayer Road (Routes 110/111) (978-772-4139). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Route 2 west to Exit 38B (Routes 110/111, Ayer/Groton exit). Go about 1 1/2 miles north. Follow signs.
Harvard: Phil's Apples, 24 Prospect Hill Road (978-456-3361). Daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 west to Harvard exit 38A (Routes 110/111). First right onto Old Shirley Road to Prospect Hill Road.
Harvard: Westward Orchards Farm Stand, Massachusetts Avenue (Route 111) (978-456-8363). Daily, except Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 west to Route 111 south; go about 1/4 miles. www.westwardorchards.com.
Ipswich: Russell Orchards, 143 Argilla Road (978-356-5366). Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. I-95 north to Route 128 north. Follow Route 128 to Exit 20A (Route 1A) to Route 133 in Ipswich. Follow signs for Crane Beach. www.russellorchardsma.com
Lunenburg: Lanni Orchards, 294 Chase Road, Route 13 (978-582-6246). Daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Route 2 west to Route 13 north, 2 miles past Whalom Park. Follow signs. www.lanniorchards.com.
North Andover: Smolak Farms, 315 South Bradford St. (978-862-6332 or 978-687-4027). Farm hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. I-93 north to Exit 41 (Andover/North Andover, Route 125). Right at end of ramp. Follow 125 about 7 miles. Left at the light at Route 114. Right at the next light onto Route 125. Right at the light after the 99 Restaurant. Go through North Andover. Bear left at fire station. Go 1 mile. Left at yellow light. Go 2 miles. Farm is on left. www.smolakfarms.com.
Northborough: Tougas Family Farm, 246 Ball St. (508-393-6406). Daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. I-495 to Route I-290 (Exit 24). Church Street, 0.1 mile north to Ball Street, then 1 1/2 miles up the hill. www.tougasfarm.com.
North Brookfield: Brookfield Orchards, 2 Lincoln Road (508-867-6858). Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mass. Pike west to Sturbridge exit. Route 20 east, left to Route 49, left on Route 9. Follow signs. www.browsethebrookfields.com.
Peabody: Brooksby Farm, 38 Felton St. (978-531-7456). Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Retail 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 128 north to Exit 25 west to Route 114. Go through three sets of lights. Left on Cross Street. Second right onto Felton.
Pepperell: Kimball Fruit Farm, 184 Hollis St. (Route 122 north on Mass.-N.H. border) (978-433-9751). Daily 9 a.m.-6p.m. Route 3 north to Tyngsboro-Dunstable exit. Bear right off ramp onto Route 113. Go 8 miles to rotary in center of Pepperell. Make 1/4 turn onto Route 111. Follow almost to N.H. line; farm on left.
Phillipston: Red Apple Farm, 455 Highland Ave. (978-249-6763). Daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 to Exit 19 from the east, Exit 18 from the west. Follow signs. www.redapplefarm.com.
South Natick: Marino Lookout Farm, 89 Pleasant St. (508-653-0653). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Exit 21B off I-95/Route 128. Go 5 miles on Route 16 west into South Natick Square. Left onto Pleasant St. Go about 1 mile.www.lookoutfarm.com.
Sterling: Clearview Farm, 4 Kendall Hill (978-422-0442). Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m., weekends and holidays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 2 west to Route 190 south or Mass. Pike west to I-495 north to Route 62. Go through Clinton. Follow signs. www.clearviewfarmstand.com.
Stow: Carver Hill Orchard, Brookside Avenue, off Route 62 (978-897-6117). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Routes 117 and 62 to Stow Center. Left at lights, 1/2 mile to Brookside Avenue on left. Follow signs.
Stow: Honey Pot Hill Orchards, 144 Sudbury Road (978-562-5666). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Route 2 west to Route 62 exit. Go 7 miles into Stow. Follow signs. www.honeypothill.com.
Stow: Shelburne Farm, 106 West Acton Road (978-897-9287). Daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Route 117, right on Crescent Street (about 1/4 mile after the Stowe Shopping Center). Go to end. Right on West Acton Road. Farm on right. www.shelburnefarm.com.
Sturbridge: Hyland Orchard and Brewery, 199 Arnold Road, Sturbridge (508-347-7500). Daily, except Monday, noon-7 p.m. Mass. Pike west to Exit 9. Take Route 20 west. Go 1.7 miles to Arnold Road. Go 2 miles.
Tyngsborough: Parlee Farms, Farwell Road (978-649-3854). Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Route 3 north to Exit 34. Right onto Westford Road. Go 1 mile to the lights. Left onto Middlesex Road. Second right onto Farwell Road. Go 1 mile. Farm on right.www.parleefarm.com.
Westford: Drew Farm, 31 Tadmuck Road (978-392-3449). Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. I-495 to Exit 32. Take Boston Road to Route 110. Left onto 110, left onto Tadmuck Road. www.drewfarms.com.
West Newbury: Long Hill Orchard, 520 Main St. (978-363-2170). Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. I-95 north to Exit 57. West on Route 113. Go 3 miles; farm on right.