PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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October 1, 2019

As we enter the peak of apple harvest season, I propose a fun way for hobby farmers with large, mature fruit trees to tackle the task of picking and preserving their apple crop (which I hope is abundant).

Every fall, when the apples are ripening, the people on my farm fire up our John Deere Model 40 then invite friends and family to participate in a special apple-picking hayride. This includes a hay wagon adorned with hay bales for seats. It’s a combination of practicality and fun that everyone finds enjoyable.

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The idea for these annual hayrides originated from a need to make the apple harvest easier. We have dozens of large trees scattered across our farm (which is common on older properties in our area), so traveling from tree to tree on foot becomes quite a journey, especially when you’re toting apple pickers as well as baskets upon baskets of ripe apples. It’s a pleasant journey no doubt, but then we thought, why not load up a hay wagon with all our supplies and simply drive from tree to tree?

Granted, an ATV or lawn mower pulling a trailer might work just as well for transporting supplies. But there’s another big benefit to bringing along the hay wagon—it gives you an elevated platform for the apple harvest.

When picking from large trees, this helps a lot. The deck of our hay wagon sits about three feet off the ground, so when we park the wagon underneath or alongside a tree, standing on the wagon brings a lot more apples within easy reach. You still need apple pickers for reaching the highest fruit, but when half the fun is picking apples with friends and family, it helps to have lots of apples within easy reach for children and adults alike.

We modified our hay wagon several years ago, building enhanced sides for supporting large loads of hay. These sides also serve as guard rails during apple harvest season, ensuring that overeager pickers don’t lean too far over the edge of the wagon while straining to reach that oh-so-perfect bright red apple.

Here’s he biggest advantage of combining a hayride: It lets family and friends of all ages to participate in an easy and relaxed manner. My grandmother (in her mid-90s) might not be eager to tromp all over the farm, but she’s happy to climb up on the hay wagon and help harvest fruit. I remember picking plums last year and passing a big handful from my young hands into her older ones, which prompted me to stop for a moment and appreciate how special it is that she can still come along and pick fruit with us.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a hay wagon and some large apple trees, I encourage you to begin the annual tradition of taking friends and family on an apple-harvesting hayride. Add some hay bales, stock up with baskets and pickers, choose a sunny day, and set off for a wonderful afternoon. The practical aspects are obvious, but it’s the family time—making memories on the farm—that is truly priceless.

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