The recent spell of gorgeous fall weather has given new meaning to the expression "apple of my eye" for Central Kentucky apple growers and apple eaters, creating the perfect finishing touch for an already good harvest.
"It's been a great year for apples," says Dana Reed of Reed Valley Orchard, which sits halfway between Paris and Cynthiana. "When it gets in the 40s at night, apples get sugar and they get color, and that's what people like." At Reed's, the apple picking is proceeding at full speed as the farm heads into the last two months of the season. "We've got plenty of apples to sell," says Reed, and that's a good thing. Their annual country festival is coming up Saturday, and there will be plenty of people wanting to buy some.
The 119 acres that make up the property was nothing but scrub when Dana and Trudie Reed purchased it in 1988. "It was pretty sad," says Trudie. At that time, the couple had a fertilizer company and were looking for somewhere to store their trucks. But shortly after they bought it, in quick succession, Toyota offered Dana a job, the couple sold the fertilizer business and Dana declared to Trudie that he needed a hobby that brought in some money.
Apple orchards run in both sides of their family. Dana's had owned an orchard when he was a boy in Western Massachusetts, and Trudie's grandfather, Leo LeMaster, helped introduce and promote apple growing in Johnson County, home now to the Kentucky Apple Festival, also this weekend.
"My backyard was an orchard," says Trudie. "My grandfather brought apple trees back from Washington state. I remember him taking me through the orchard at 4 years old on the back of a horse." A short online search turns up a 1950 news item of Johnson County's record apple crop and Leo LeMaster and partner's 2,000-bushel yield.
Soon, Dana's Toyota paycheck began supporting fruit tree purchases and farm equipment.
One row of trees led to another. They learned from experts and their own experience that their land had its own microclimate that dipped down from Northern Kentucky; nighttime temperatures were 5 degrees cooler than in surrounding areas, making it an ideal situation for growing apples.
At one point the Reeds were growing close to 100 varieties. They tried a lot of antique varieties because of the big interest in heirlooms. But a lot of those apples had become heirlooms because they weren't very good. "Those antiques didn't like it here," says Dana. "And we didn't like them either," says Trudie.
Twenty-six years after they started, they've learned what works and what doesn't. They now have more than 50 varieties of apples and supply many Fayette and Bourbon county school cafeterias, as well as Ken's NewMarkets and the Good Foods Co-op. Good Foods produce manager Will McComb attests to Reed apples' popularity: "They're consistently among our top three sellers. Last year there was a period of time when they eclipsed bananas." McComb calls that "unheard of" in the produce world.
Reed Orchard will have apples ripening into November, and the ones that come in late — the Pink Lady, Gold Rush, Fuji and Arkansas Black — are all long keepers.
But orchards don't live on apples alone, and right now Reed's also has a variety of pears, squash, pumpkins, and popping corn.
Visitors looking for any of those things, or just a quiet walk down a country road that still has ruts from its stagecoach days, can find them five days a week at Reed's, which stays open until Dec. 1. Anyone who wants those things plus wagon rides and barbecue, but with a little less quiet and a little more gospel and dulcimer music, might want to come out for their country festival on Saturday.