School is back in session, the days are growing shorter and apples that have been ripening in the late summer sunshine are ready for picking at many suburban apple orchards.
However, last year's grueling winter took its toll on some local orchards and their apple crops.
"Because of that long, long winter, 62 of our Mutsu apple trees died," said Helga Ziegler, co-owner of Ziegler's Apple Orchard in Grayslake. "We have been here since 1973, and we have never ever lost that many trees. And these were healthy young trees."
Don Burda, owner of Homestead Orchard in Woodstock, said the recent hard winter destroyed about nine of his orchard's trees.
"Some of the trees were 30 years old. But this winter just zapped them," Burda said.
But never fear apple pickers. There are still apples ready to be plucked from the branches at Ziegler's, Homestead and many other orchards this season.
Here is our guide to some orchards where you can pick your own apples or, at some, purchase pre-picked apples. Call ahead or check the orchard websites for hours and apple availability.
All Seasons Apple Orchard
More than 10,000 apple trees are blooming at All Seasons Apple Orchard, 14510 Route 176, Woodstock. Apple picking is now open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends through Sunday, Nov. 2. The orchard is also open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Labor Day, Sept. 1, and Columbus Day, Oct. 13.
Along with the you-pick apples, All Seasons features a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, a barnyard, play area and hayrides. Check their website for fees, as they vary. (815) 338-5637 or allseasonsorchard.com.
Heinz Orchard, at 1050 Crest Road in Green Oaks, is expected to open for apple picking in mid-September. Check for updates at heinzorchard.com or call (847) 770-3449.
Homestead Orchard offers apple picking to the public through October, Burda said. Fifteen varieties are available.
After picking apples, guests are invited to picnic near "one of the biggest, oldest maple trees in the county," Burda said.
Homestead Orchard is at 11802 Charles Road, Woodstock. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission and parking are free. Apples cost $1.50 per pound (all varieties). (815) 338-7443 or homesteadorchard.net.
Kuiper's Family Farm
Apple season is now in full swing at Kuiper's Family Farm, 1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park. Visitors can pick their own apples on Saturdays and Sundays only, through October, or while supplies last. Picking is not available on weekdays.
Admission to the orchard is $9 per person and includes a wagon ride to the grove and a quarter peck bag of apples. Kids ages 2 and younger admitted free. (815) 827-5200, Ext. 1, or kuipersfamilyfarm.com.
The 2014 apple season opens on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Lang's Orchard, 17411 Secor Road in Woodstock. This year, the orchard will not have any you-pick apples; only pre-picked fresh apples will be available for sale. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. (815) 568-7547 or langsorchard.com.
Choose from seven apple varieties this season at Meadowmoor Orchard, 1517 N. Route 47 in Woodstock. The orchard is open Sunday, Sept. 7, through mid-October. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Guests can pick Honeycrisp, Fuji, Topaz, Crimson Crisp, Enterprise, SnowSweet and Sweet 16 apples. Check website for a list of apple varieties and updated pricing. (815) 687-8208 or meadowmoororchard.com.
More Than Delicious Orchard
Don't know which apple variety to try? More Than Delicious Orchard, 9905 Thompson Road, Woodstock, offers 80 varieties of apples and some pears. Opening day is planned for mid-September.
The picking schedule will be posted on the orchard's website during the first week of September. Picking hours are limited to Saturdays and Sundays. Cost for a bushel (42 pounds) of apples is $60. Half bushels, pecks and half pecks are also available. (815) 575-9650 or morethandelicious.com.
Prairie Sky Orchard
Fifteen varieties of apples are growing strong at Prairie Sky Orchard, 4914 N. Union Road, Union.
"The trees are producing well. We have a good supply of Honeycrisp apples," owner Sue Ellen Arndt said.
Royal Oak Farm Orchard
The Royal Oak Farm Orchard, 15908 Hebron Road, Harvard, is now open for apple picking through mid-November. More than 30 varieties of apples are growing on 16,000 apple trees. Beginning Monday, Sept. 1, hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Note: Honeycrisp apples are only available pre-picked. (815) 648-4141 or royaloakfarmorchard.com.
Ziegler's Apple Orchard
Opening the weekend of Saturday, Sept. 20, Ziegler's Apple Orchard, at 32363 N. Bacon Road in Grayslake, offers nine varieties of you-pick apples.
Ziegler's is the only orchard in northern Illinois that offers the Banana Apple, said orchard co-owner Helga Ziegler.
"A Banana Apple is a sturdy apple, with thick skin and yellowish meat inside," Ziegler said. "It is much larger than the Winter Banana apple. When fully grown, a Banana Apple can be the size of a grapefruit."
Courtland and Jonathan apples will be ready for picking on the orchard's opening weekend, Ziegler said. All other varieties should be ripe by Saturday, Sept. 27.
Ziegler's is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through mid-October. For information, including apple pricing, call (847) 546-1228.