Find Fall Apples off the Beaten Path

Enjoy the fruits of Ashe County orchards or plant your own

By Joan Wenner | Photos by Ron Joyner/Big Horse Creek Farm

Find Fall Apples off the Beaten Path

Ron and Sue Joyner in their orchard at Big Horse Creek Farm

The high mountainous region of northwestern North Carolina boasts apple producers of some wonderful varieties, and this month the harvest is in full swing. Many farms let you pick your own or purchase an already-picked supply for baking super delicious pies or brewing a favorite hot cider concoction.

Orchards abound

With its climate and soil conditions ideal for apple growing, commercial operations in Ashe County were established in the 19th and 20th centuries. Several growers in the county carry on the tradition, many of whom sell their apples at the Ashe County Farmers Market in West Jefferson (check ashefarmersmarket.com for hours).

Contact growers (at the farmers market or at the contact information listed below) for “pick-your-own” availability, along with directions to their farms. Finding some of these out of the way gems may take a bit of stopping to ask directions of the locals, but the extra time is well worth it. You’ll experience the truly rural nature of this part of northwestern North Carolina, with its rushing creeks and beautiful fall scenery, plus the bonus of all the finest apples you want from the very fine people who own and run these farms.

Horticultural heritage

If you prefer to start your own orchard (or at least plant a tree), Big Horse Creek Farm specializes in the collection and propagation of antique and heirloom apple varieties of the Appalachian Mountains, as well as many other apple varieties — more than 350 in all.

Owners Ron and Suzanne Joyner operate with the self-proclaimed mission to “preserve our horticultural heritage; to save them [apples] from extinction and get them established in people’s backyards and orchards for the benefit of future generations.” That is a tall order, but the Joyners say they have managed to grow numerous “old apple” types at one time or another over the last 25 years, despite various challenges.

Chicken and apple trees

A local inspects young trees at Big Horse Creek Farm

A lifelong interest in raising garden herbs and vegetables led to apple trees in the 1980s after meeting recognized author, apple preservationist and collector Lee Calhoun from Pittsboro. They purchased trees from him and eventually started grafting their own to establish their now-thriving agricultural business selling to customers all over the country. Growing, grafting and fulfilling orders for their trees is not easy work, but they manage to carry on and enjoy visitors for scheduled tours of their farm.

The Joyners take orders for apple tree varieties at bighorsecreekfarm.com. If you’re looking for advice, they have plenty to give — Ron writes about one of his favorite apple varieties, for example, on his farm blog.

“For the home grower with just a couple of trees to the commercial producer with thousands, the (Northern) Crow Egg is the ‘almost perfect’ apple which should part of the orchard setting," Ron says. "It is a truly marvelous apple that will not disappoint.”

Plan a visit

There are several pick-your-own orchards to enjoy; here are a few in and close to Ashe County:

Apple Hill Farm
400 Apple Hill Road, Banner Elk | applehillfarmnc.com

Big Horse Creek Farm
P.O. Box 70, Lansing | bighorsecreekfarm.com

Coffey’s Orchard
833 Ridge Rd., Boone | 828-964-2645
Does not offer pick-your-own, but welcomes groups and families

Hump Mountain Apple House Orchard & Farm
9800 NC Hwy. 105 South, Banner Elk | 828-963-5333

Old Orchard Creek Farm
410 Swansie Shepherd Road, Lansing | oldorchardcreek.com

About the Author

Joan Wenner, J.D., is a writer residing in Pitt County. She welcomes comments at joan_writer@yahoo.com.

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