Where to see lost varieties, pick your own and celebrate the fruit at orchards throughout the South.
Featured on our 2023 Fall/Winter Reading List, Diane Flynt’s Wild, Tamed, Lost, Revived: The Surprising Story of Apples in the South shares the rich history of apples in the South as well as her own journey farming new apples in the southern Appalachians and founding the South’s first modern cidery. Since we are in the midst of apple season in the South, there’s no better time to get up to speed about all things apples, including popular farms by state, varieties and upcoming festivals.
The South is situated in the USDA’s climate zones 6 through 10, meaning it stays rather warm most of the year compared to other areas of the country. As a result, it is well-suited for producing apples and is native to a plethora of varieties. Some of the best varieties to grow in the region include Anna, Dorsett, Fuji and Red Columnar. However, these tend to overshadow the recovery efforts put into heirloom apples of the past across the region.
Retired chemical engineer Tom Brown of Clemmons took to researching long-forgotten Southern apple orchards and varieties in 2001 and spent 25 years searching for lost Appalachian heirloom apples, reclaiming around 1,200 varieties through the years. Brown was taught by several heritage orchardists how to identify and catalog long-forgotten varieties, driving throughout the South in search of apples that hadn’t been seen in decades or even centuries. He now manages his own orchard that sells over 1,000 saplings each year, including once-rare heirloom varieties.
The Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Farm is a historic site in Pinnacle, North Carolina. The orchard is home to around 850 apple trees and upwards of 425 varieties of Southern apples. Some of these varieties are on the verge of extinction, and Horne Creek possesses the only known trees in existence for about 200 of them upon its restoration in 1989. The farm’s current owner, Lee Calhoun, published a book in 1995 called Old Southern Apples detailing their research efforts, cataloging 1,600 apple varieties. Two years later, the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard was born and continues to grow and thrive today.
Creasman Farms is a third-generation farm located in Hendersonville, growing over 40 kinds of apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, blueberries, blackberries, flowers and vegetables. Produce and products from the farm can be found at several farmer’s markets and festivals in the area including the Historic Bethabara Park Apple Festival in Winston-Salem. A you-pick season is also offered on-site on Sunday afternoons between September and October.
The city of Ellijay will be hosting the 2023 Georgia Apple Festival on October 14, 15, 21 and 22. The festival is a cherished 52-year tradition that includes vendors, demos, live music and fair food celebrating apples. Additionally, there are more than 10 apple orchards in the area where you can pick apples, enjoy homemade treats and partake in other activities. The Red Apple Barn offers a pumpkin patch and wagon rides, and B.J. Reece Orchards features a petting zoo, rubber duck races and a corn maze through the month of October.
The Folk Collaborative in McCaysville is another fun you-pick destination in Georgia with a twist. The family-owned business features an orchard, bakery and apothecary rooted in Appalachian culture. The orchard’s you-pick season begins in August and runs through early November with an array of varieties ripening at different times during the season. The bakery offers homemade sweets, coffees and teas to satisfy visitors after their apple-picking adventures. With an appreciation for the use of plants passed down through generations, the accompanying apothecary contains handmade, locally sourced products for home, medicinal and cooking purposes. The orchard also has a secondary location in Copper Hill, Tennessee.
Down the road from Monticello, Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville began as a peach tree orchard and roadside stand in the early 1900s. Passed down through five generations, Carter Mountain is now one of four orchards owned by Chiles Family Orchards, including Chiswell Farm & Winery, Chiles Peach Orchard and Spring Valley Orchard. The orchard features a you-pick season from mid-August to mid-December as well as hayrides, a tap room and a wine shop carrying its own label.
Also founded in the early 1900s and passed down through generations, Fruit Hill Orchard in Palmyra holds over 2,000 fruit trees as well as an array of treats and gifts from other local farms and artists. In the summer, the orchard typically offers peach picking before ushering in apple picking season after Labor Day. During their you-pick season, visitors can also enjoy pumpkin patches, children’s activities and a self-guided tour of its apple museum.