It’s a rare weekend when we don’t have anything to do and while there are plenty of projects to do around the house, I’m a fan of getting out so I don’t have to think about all the cleaning I really should be doing. Seriously. The house is a mess. There are black tumble weeds crawling across the floor because the dogs are blowing their summer coats. I keep picking up clumps of dog fur, but the second I turn around, they’re back. It’s a never ending battle. So off we went!
Harvard, Illinois is only about 45 minutes west of our house, so I thought it would be nice to check out their Balloon Festival. What promised to be the “hottest new event in northern Illinois” quickly turned into a flop. As we drove closer to Harvard, we started looking for hot air balloons. None to see. In fact, there were no hot air balloons in the sky when we arrived at the festival. Apparently, I didn’t read the fine print that describes how balloon launches are only around sunrise and sunset. It’s actually unsafe for balloons to fly during the day due to uncontrollable thermal air. Who knew? Our son Leigh is only a year old, too small to enjoy inflatable activities or play carnival games, so we did a drive by and just kept going. But we did make a pit stop to snap a pic of me with this huge hay bale.
We looped back around to Royal Oak Farm Orchard to do some early season apple picking. Royal Oak Farm Orchard is celebrating its 20th year in business and the 120-acre farm is gorgeous. As you make the drive up through the property, you pass rows and rows of 17,000 fruitful apple trees. They do business on a token-based system, so we bought 20 tokens for $50, thinking we’ll have some left over to use later in the season and save $10. Tokens never expire – we just can’t lose them! It’s 4 tokens for 1/2 a peck of apples (a small bag). Each of us needed a bag to enter the orchard (Leigh and all children 5 and under are freebies).
Did you know? There are four pecks in a bushel. When I hear these words, I think about a great old Doris Day song my husband’s grandmother used to sing, “I love you a bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” I can’t get the tune out of my head. You may have heard it on your TV during a recent State Farm commercial.
Once you’re in the orchard, you can take a tractor ride to the aisles where the apples are ripe for picking. The tractors make their rounds, dropping off and picking up people. We took a quick five-minute ride out to the Gala Apple aisles and later rode the tractor out to the Red Free Apple zone – a little longer of a ride since they were in a different part of the farm. Leigh kept to himself on the tractor ride – he thought it was more of a haunted hayride because he screamed when I tried putting him on the hay bales for a photo.
Only because everyone else was doing it, we snacked on a few apples while we filled our bags. Freshly picked gala apples really are even better when picked fresh from the tree. Did you know apples lose nutrients after they’re picked? So it’s best to enjoy them right away! September is early for apple picking season, so there weren’t many people there. It was nice to let Leigh run free without worrying about him bumping into people or waiting in long lines. If you have small children, it might be best to hit up the orchards early. I don’t know if it’s just because I have a kid or if I’m getting old, but the fewer people I have to run into, the better mood I’m in.
After apple picking, we learned about how bees make honey in their barn. They have an awesome live bee display Leigh really enjoyed watching. Honey making is mesmerizing. We added some fresh honey, kettle corn, and apple cider to our stash and headed back home. Now we’re going to enjoy a week’s worth of apple treats, including fresh apple sauce (just peel, boil in water, then puree!) and Pioneer Woman’s apple dumplings.
Where’s your favorite place to go apple picking?