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Orchards are open for the season

Apples are getting ready for picking at Whistling Well Farm. Kelsey Roy/RiverTown Multimedia

Move aside, summer. Fall is on its way in, and that means it's apple season. Time to get out into the crisp autumn air and pick your own farm fresh apples.

Luckily, Hastings has plenty of apple orchards that offer a wide range of activities for all ages, all of which are now open for business.

With so many options, it's hard to choose. Here is a guide to help plan your fall family fun.

Afton Apple Orchard

Open since mid-August, Afton Apple Orchard has a wide range of activities for people of all ages.

The orchard is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission is $5 for ages 5 and up and $4 for ages 4 and under.

Apples can be purchased as pick-your-own or pre-picked. Pumpkins will be available in late September.

Varieties that are currently available for picking are Paula Red, Zestar and McIntosh. Riverbelles will be available for purchase in the store.

While checking out with your apples, many other products such as apple cider, apple pies, honey and more will be available for purchase.

Dogs are not allowed at Afton Apple Orchard due to health regulations.

Apple varieties: Paula Red, Zestar, Red Baron, Estival, McIntosh, Riverbelle, Sweet 16, Cortland Spartan, Haralson, Honey Gold, Regent, Honeycrisp and Connell Red—Fireside.

Family Fun: The Afton Apple Orchard corn maze is open Sept. 15 through Oct. 28. Hours for the maze are 4-10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.Sundays, with special hours over MEA weekend.

Afton also has a playground, Straw Mountain, petting zoo and a train for kids to ride.

Carpenter Nature Center

Looking for a quick apple fix? Carpenter Nature Center doesn't have pick-you-own apples, but it has the Apple Shack.

The Apple Shack is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and has apples picked fresh from the orchard. The Shack also provides other fall products like pumpkins, gourds, honey, syrups and more.

Zestar apples are currently available for purchase, and SweeTango will closely follow. Other varieties will be available as the season goes on.

Apple varieties: Zestar, Sweet Tango, Chestnut Crab, Sweet 16, McIntosh, Haralson, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Honey Gold, Fireside/Connell Red, Regent and Keepsake.

Family Fun: Get the family outside and for for a hike. The Carpenter Nature Center has over 10 miles of hiking trails running through the 425 acres of land that the Minnesota campus covers.

Fischer's Croix Farm Orchard

If you are looking for the most variety, you've found it at Fischer's Croix Farm Orchard. The orchard offers 22 varieties of apples to be picked from September through October. Doors officially opened Sept. 4.

Admission is free and the farm is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The saleroom offers customers pre-picked apples, cider, honey, maple syrup, apple pies, caramel apples and fresh vegetables. Pumpkins will be available for picking starting the last weekend in September.

Apple varieties ready for picking are Zestar and Ginger Gold.

Apple varieties: Whitney Crab, Beacon, Paula Red, Zestar, Ginger Gold, Sweet Tango, Chestnut Crab, Cortland, NW Greening, McIntosh, Sweet 16, Honeycrisp, Gala, Haralson, Honey Gold, Regent, Connell Red, Golden Russet, Fireside and Keepsake.

Family Fun: Starting mid-September, Fischer Croix Farm Orchard will open up its corn maze. The maze is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Families will also be able to enjoy the Apple Express Train, Straw Mountain and cute farm animals.

Whistling Well Farm

Whistling Well Farm held their apple season celebration Labor Day weekend. Now open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m, Whistling Well has free admission.

The orchard caries more than five varieties of apples. If you are looking to pick your own, Chestnut Crab, Paula Red and Zestar are in season and ready to be picked.

Looking for other goodies? The Country Store also has a variety of jams and jellies, as well as maple syrup. Pre-picked Sweet Tangos and a large selection of mums will be available for sale. Pumpkins will be available later in the fall.

Whistling Well is dog-friendly as long as pups are leashed and picked up after.

Apple varieties: Haralson, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, SnowSweet, Zestar, Sweet Tango, Chestnut Crab, Paula Red and Zestar.

Family Fun: On the farm, kids can feed the chickens for 25 cents. That money is donated to the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital.

Apple fun fact

You may notice that in some orchards the Fireside and Connell Red are grouped together when listed, and on others they aren't.

Fireside and Connell Red apples are actually "closer than cousins," according to Carpenter Nature Center horticulturist, John McPherson.

Connell Reds were discovered by William Connell. The new apple was a result of a mutation in a Fireside apple tree. The tree was grafted and the Connell Red was named.

"Some people come in and swear by the Connell Red, and vice-versa. I think if we took those people and did a blind taste test, they wouldn't know the difference," McPherson said.

Not sure what to do with all your fresh apples?

Whistling Well Farm, Fischer's Croix Farm Orchard and Afton Apple Orchard all offer tips and recipes on their websites.