By JOYANNA LOVE/ Peach Living Editor
Photos by KEITH MCCOY and contributed
Those looking for fall fun have several options in Chilton County. Several local growers open their orchards and fields to the public for pick-your-own adventures in produce during the fall months. Here are some of what is available in September and October.
Potential pickers have to get up early for this one.
“Fig is unique in that it has to be harvested every day,” Dr. Arlie Powell said. “We harvest each morning. If somebody comes when we are here when we are harvesting, then we let them pick.”
Even if fig lovers arrive too late to pick the fruit, they will find freshly picked varieties for sale. Shoppers can enjoy the purchased figs at one of Petals from the Past’s picnic tables or while strolling the property.
The company grows 15 varieties of figs throughout the year. This year the fig season started early because of the mild winter.
Some of these, such as LSU Purple, will be available in September.
Powell said they have been working to replace these trees that were partially destroyed a few years ago.
“This year we have gotten to the point where we have replaced all of them,” Powell said.
Since this is the first year of full development for the new branches, Powell said this variety is ripening later. The riper a fig gets, the sweeter it is. Small cracks on the skin of a fig are an indication that it is ripe, Powell said. Ripe figs are also slightly squishy.
Powell said some enjoy eating fresh figs, while others enjoys making things with them. He said fig preserves is the most popular flavor of the preserves sold at Petals from the Past.
“They are fantastic,” Powell said.
His favorite way to eat the preserves is on a ham or sausage biscuit.
This year figs should be available until mid-September.
When the company first started growing figs, Powell said they didn’t think many people would eat fresh figs. He has been surprised at how many people will buy fresh figs. At a farmer’s market last summer he sold 75 pints in an hour.
Powell said price is higher this year because of weather-related crop issues.
“Because we have had a shortage for the last several years, we are $6 a pint,” Powell said.
Figs are $10 for a rounded off quart.
Different varieties each have a slightly different flavor.
Some, such as lemon figs, have smooth skin, while others have ridges. Those with smooth skins are sweet.
Once picked, if not eaten right away, figs should be refrigerated. Powell said the best way to store figs is to take the original open topped container and put it in a one or two-gallon freezer bag.
“Slip this in a freezer bag, press all the air out, zip it and put it in the refrigerator,” Powell said. “If you do that with a freezer bag, now you can’t do that with a storage bag. A storage bag won’t last … Usually a fig that is light colored would be good for three or four days. If you have a dark colored fig, you can store those seven to 10 days. The darker the fig, the better the storage ability.”
Despite having to replace fig trees, this year each tree will produce from 100 and 150 pounds of fruit, Powell said.
Another variety the business grows is celeste, also called little, blue sugar fig.
“It is really, really sweet,” Powell said.
Some varieties are white and red on the inside, while others are just red on the inside.
Because figs produce latex, those with latex sensitivities should take extra precautions when picking the fruit.
The season for some varieties of muscadines began in mid-August at Petals from the Past. Powell said this year they should still be available in September and possibly October.
“We do a lot of pick your own with muscadines, and they really enjoy it,” Powell said.
Granny Val is on variety that will still be available.
“We have done some special pruning on ours to remove the extra shoot growth,” Powell said.
Granny val produces 80 to 90 pounds per vine at Petals from the Past. The season for this variety starts in August and runs through mid-October.
“The muscadine is native to the Southeast, including Alabama,” Powell said.
Most muscadines are eaten as is, but several wine enthusiasts also come to Petals from the past to get the key ingredient for their wine. (Wine production up to 100 gallons per year for home consumption is allowed by federal law, Powell said. home producers just cannot sell any of it.)
The cost for muscadines varies by type variety and size of container.
There are two types of muscadines at Petals — bronze and purple. Powell said the way to tell the difference is by looking at the tendril of the plant where it connects to the vine. If it is a bronze, the tendril will be green. If it’s a purple, the tendril will be red.
Black beauty muscadines are his favorite.
“They don’t taste like a bunch grape. They are totally different,” Powell said. “There are four seeds in here and the seeds are wrapped up in pulp that is real, real sweet.”
once Black beauty turns purple and slightly squishy, it is time to pick.
“The ultimate test, before I let anybody pick them is you have to taste them,” Powell said.
The preserves made from these muscadines are also a top seller.
The season for this variety began in August and should run through the end of September
Petal from the Past makes preserves from the fruit.
Petals from the Past is located at 16034 County Road 29 in Jemison.
The Penton Farms Pumpkin Patch in Verbena provides a fun, family activity.
Rachel Penton said the pumpkin patch will be open Sept. 23 to Nov. 4 this year.
Last year was the first year the farm offered the pumpkin patch.
“I did not expect the response that we did have,” Penton said. “It’s just fun to watch all those kids running around and playing in the corn pit and so excited to come back with their pumpkin from the pumpkin patch.”
“We had lots of people come out and we were thrilled,” Penton said.
The ripeness of a pumpkin is determined by color.
“You want it to be a nice orange color,” Penton said.
She said some people will pick the pumpkin before it is rip in order to heave a green pumpkin to display.
“The size can vary anywhere from a large softball size up to bigger than a basketball,” Penton said.
There are 15 varieties to choose from in the Penton Pumpkin Patch.
In the patch, vines are precut on ripened pumpkins to make selection simple for customers.
“They are not easy to get off the vine, so we go through there and clip what is ready,” Penton said.
General admission, which includes a pumpkin and activities, is $10. Children under 2 years old can participate for free.
Activities include a ride to the pumpkin picking area, corn pit fun, 40-foot slides, human hamster wheel, animal barn and a corn maze.
Penton said the corn pit has been expanded for this year.
There is an additional cost for the corn cannon.
The pumpkin patch is open Monday through Friday 1 -5 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For those who want just a pumpkin without the activities, Penton has pumpkins displayed for sale with prices starting at $1 each.
To expand the life of a pumpkin for display, a solution of Clorox and water can be used. Penton said dipping the pumpkin in the solution “helps kill bacteria that is on the pumpkin and that will make them last longer.
Most of the pumpkins selected at Penton’s patch will be carved. Penton said a round pumpkin with a flat bottom make the best pumpkins for carving.
She said pumpkins grow well in sandy soil.
Pumpkins are planted in late June or early July to be ready for harvest by fall.
The pumpkin patch is located across from the end of County Road 57.