“It’s stupidly hot,” I complained to Patrick. “It’s not even a little bit like fall. But we can still pick apples and pretend. Pack up the kids.”
I called Arnold Starr at Apple Starr Orchards in Julian (760-305-2169); he was happy to take the call. “Right now, I have someone else running the u-pick,” he explained. “I’m sitting, relaxing with a glass of Jameson’s, and listening to good music.” I could hear him smiling through the phone and wasn’t a bit surprised when he said that what he mostly sold (besides apples) was charm.
Apple Starr has about eight acres planted to fruit trees. “We have both apples and pears. Somehow, everybody has got a fixation on the apples because they all come from the Midwest. I have Galas that ripen first, then I have Jonagolds that ripen next, and then after that I think it’s going to be the Fujis, then the Granny Smiths, then the Red Delicious. As for the pears, we have both Red and Green Bartletts, Anjous — both pink and green, Comice, and Bosc. They’re wonderful. It’s boring being a farmer unless you have variety. It’s like being a human being.”
1020 Julian Orchard Drive, Julian
In the late ’90s, Starr smelled the organic trend coming in on the breeze. “I somehow sensed the need for that. I was put on probation in 1997 and got certified in 2000. Because I’m organic, I can’t use poisons to control anything. The biggest problem we have is worms. The coddling moth lays her eggs on the tree, and the eggs hatch in the spring. I have to spray the tree with a certified-organic oil, so that when the babies are born, they drown. The other thing I do is disrupt the mating by releasing pheremones. They confuse the male so that he doesn’t know where the female is.”
Starr was hesitant to choose favorites from among his produce. “All the food tastes good. Among the apples, Galas are sweet, Jonagolds are a little tart, and Grannies are really tart. My favorite? I like ’em all. As for the pears, the Bartletts are sweet, and the red ones, you put them in a bowl on the dining room table, it’s a work of art. I like Bosc when I have cheese.”
Besides the trees, he said, “We have a picnic area. Sometimes, some families come early and grab them. I’m not a policeman, I can’t control that. There’s also a hundred-year-old bathroom with a modern toilet. I tried porta-potties, but they’re disgusting, so.... We keep it clean. People complain because they have to wait, but...”
When I asked about prices, Starr said, “You sell apples or pears by the bushel. A bushel is about 44 pounds. There are four pecks in a bushel. So when Adelaide sings, ‘I love you a bushel and a peck’ in Guys and Dolls, that’s a very positive thing. Pickers can buy a peck bag for $25, and if they buy a second one at the same time, it’s $15. We’re open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekends. As far as kids go, they have to pick the low branches. If there’s one child and a parent, I can let the child have a picker for the high ones. But if you have two children, each with a picker, they’ll do Ivanhoe.”
Over at Peacefield Orchard in Julian (760-443-3930), Les Turner has 500 trees on two and a half acres, many of them from the original dry-farmed planting. He keeps it open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekends or until he runs out of apples. “We charge an admission fee of $10 [cash only] per person over three years old, and that gets you a half-peck bag that holds six to eight pounds. If you want more, you can buy more. We have Granny Smith and Jonathan and Jonagold and a few Golden and Red Delicious. I think the Jonagold is the best apple ever invented; it’s a cross between a Jonathan and a Golden Delicious. It’s sweet and juicy and stays sharp in pie. And we have a bathroom and some picnic benches and things of that sort.”
1284 Julian Orchards Drive, Julian
Finally, Volcan Valley Apple Farm in Julian (760-315-1071) offers Empire, Jonathan, and Gala apples (plus maybe a few others) for $12 a bag. Hours: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. every day.