Fall enthusiasts can expect a healthy crop of Berkshire apples this fall, as locals, tourists and growers gear up for the pick-your-own season.
But to enjoy this popular outdoor outing in 2020, wear a mask, keep your distance from other apple pickers and only sample the juicy red-skinned fruit after you leave the orchard.
Pick-your-own fruit growers are preparing for a COVID-19-style activity by following state guidelines and adopting their own protocols to handle the thousands of apple pickers during the peak period of Labor Day weekend to Columbus Day.
Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington is among the 80-plus pick-your-own orchards across the commonwealth. Co-owner Judy Mareb said a pick-your-own pandemic protocol was put into place in early July at the nursery and orchard for the blueberry picking season. A separate check-in tent greets pick-your-own customers ready to fill a prepaid container with the succulent fruit.
"We now have people pay ahead of time, so they don't have to go into the store to check in, minimizing contact with our staff," Mareb said.
The same system will be in place for apple picking: people will prepay for the bag size they want to fill, wear a mask and keep six feet apart from others in the orchard. Apples can only be eaten after you've left the orchard.
While social distancing can be easier outside in fighting the spread of the coronavirus, Mareb said crowd control will be important as she expects to be busy through mid-October.
"We'll have to watch the number of people in the orchard, especially on the busy fall foliage weekends," she said.
Based on spring plant sales at Jaeschke's Orchard in Adams, owner Henry Jaeschke is ready for the pick-your-own onslaught in September and October.
"We had a large volume of people in May and sold everything," he said.
The 55-acre orchard is teaming with a "big crop" of apples that Jaeschke said will be able to accommodate the crowds.
"But they still have to social distance. No if, when or what about it, this has to be done," he said.
Social distancing, even on busy weekends this fall, should not pose a problem at Bartlett's Orchard in Richmond, according to manager Trevor Bartlett.
"I don't think we have to worry about spreading out as we have the acreage," he said.
Bartlett's has 24 acres of apple trees, 10 for the public to pick clean. Except for adding hand-washing stations and other sanitizing measures due the coronavirus, Bartlett said they've always had apple pickers go to a separate shed to be checked-in and prepay for the picked apples.
The concern is more with indoor customers during apple picking from early September through Columbus Day weekend or later.
"Our biggest change will be the traffic flow through the store when our peak begins Labor Day weekend," Bartlett said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.