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Apple Picking Etiquette


Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.”  attributed to Bill Meyer

This blog was originally intended to discuss the subtle variations and preferences in apples available throughout New England.  But when I got back and realized even with labels I started to doubt my memory on the types of apples contained in the pics, I realized I was lucky to be annoyed by what I call “the antics in the orchards”. 

Apples like jewel clusters, Barkers Farm

Trust me, eating the apple in Eden isn’t the only apple-based crime. After a recent trip to three orchards, I witnessed a need for a course on Apple Picking Etiquette. I figured this out after finding myself insulted by a number of accusatory signs posted throughout Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, Smolak Farm in North Andover and even my beloved Barkers Farm also in North Andover. 

Any marketer would tell you “Don’t accost your potential customers with “No shoes, no shirt, no service”-like admonishments even before they

Barkers Farm No Andover MA Rules for Apple Picking

enter your store when in fact you are trying to sell them something, and the VAST majority of people have no intention of coming in shirtless and shoeless”.  I was immediately put off by this practice on PYO farms.  But my experience in the orchard and in speaking with proprietors made me realize that people are more horribly mannered than I had naively believed, and the signs are needed.

I now deliver my rule list to the world in the delusional belief that it may help parents who weren’t taught “the Golden Rules about

Macoun Apples at Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury

Golden Delicious” and so never passed that info on to their offspring, and that through this newly educated generation of parents, we will eliminate the need for cranky-spirited signs on the idyllic landscape of PYO orchards and farms.  And for those who can’t find it in their hearts to help the farmers because it’s the right thing to do, I also present a list of legal ramifications you may encounter if you go astray.  These were reviewed lightheartedly by Atty. Walter R. Colby, my dad, who is still practicing law in Wakefield, Massachusetts,  as well as by anonymous proprietors of PYO farms throughout the region.

Here is my list of the TOP 10 “DON’TS” of APPLE PICKING: 

  1.  Don’t climb the trees. Farms are always struggling financially to stay alive; help keep local farms around by protecting their revenue sources.   What doesn’t help –  destroying a branch, injuring a tree,  and suing when you get hurt falling out of the tree you shouldn’t have climbed in the first place. Legal speak– Any branch you break will be
    Abundant Apples at Barkers Farm

    bearing dozens of apples this year and throughout the life span of the tree. Hundreds of thousands of apples are at risk and if you break a branch, you technically owe restitution for the lost revenue.   

  2. Don’t wander outside the specified picking areaReal life story – One family with an apple picking bag  traipsed through the orchard, down to the cornfields and stomped into the stalks to pick their own corn then, stopped to pluck a few sunflowers from the farmhouse residence garden and jam them into their over stuffed bag along the way.  Legal speak – the PYO contract is between you and the farm that has the right to designate what may be picked and where. Any breach of that contract is grounds for dismissal from the grounds, restitution for damages and charges of trespassing.  Better hope Mrs. Greenjeans wasn’t planning to enter her sunflowers for the big cash award at the county fair. 
  3. Don’t eat the apples in the field. They haven’t been washed and
    Damaged property

    probably contain some pesticides on the skin as well as bird and bug poop, acid rain, deer saliva and squirrel urine. (Hoping I don’t need a rule that people must not relieve themselves in the orchard; this is food after all.)  Legal speak:  “What? Are you nuts?”  Okay, that’s not legal speak, that’s Alison speak, but legally this rule is in force anywhere it is not specifically unenforced by signage.  Also food consumed onsite has a different (read “higher”) tax basis, and if you do not pay the additional tax there is the possibility of tax evasion charges. 

  4. Don’t think an apple in the orchard is any freer than an apple in the store.  Think of an orchard as a grocery store in the rough, but the good kind of rough, that lets you take in the outdoors in exchange for “doing it yourself”.  Legal speak:  If caught pilfering an apple it could be considered petty larceny, and unless you’re a minor that will go on your permanent record. 
  5. Don’t waste the apples.  Did they stop teaching “waste not, want not”
    Fortune Apple Cider Hill Farm

    after the 70’s?  What on earth would make you think it was okay to pick an apple, take a bite and throw it on the ground, not because it was bad or bitter, but because you just wanted a taste and after figuring out it was good, wanted only whole apples in your bag.  Legal speak:  This is destruction of property and the practice should be nipped in the bud. 

  6. Don’t knock down six apples trying to get one (admittedly mistakes happen.)  Legal speak:  See Rule #5. 
  7. Don’t rationalize that apples you pick and discard or knock to the ground will be used for other customers.  Health Dept. restrictions prohibit reusing “grounded” apples.   Discards will become fodder for bugs, worms and deer, and represent a loss of revenue.  Legal speak:  Damaged or partially-eaten apples cannot be used as food stuff in any manner by the grower.  This is destruction of property, and ignorance of the law is no excuse. 
  8. Don’t pick more apples than you can pay for in the mistaken belief you are helping out the farmers by picking for the farmstand.  Believe me the farmstand has
    Instore Macs at Cider Hill Farm

    higher picking standards for display in their store than you do and is carefully monitoring the quantity harvested for this purpose to ensure the best product for its customers who don’t pick.  This would be like going to the grocery store, picking up a bunch of grapes, removing them from the stem, and handing them back to the store for resale.   Legal speak:  This is destruction of property. 

  9. Don’t bring in outside food, set up a blanket and picnic on the grounds.  Most orchards do not have the necessary permits to allow for onsite consumption.  Real life example – a family came in with a blanket, several kids and a can of whipped cream, sat beside the strawberry picking area and ate their fill without washing or paying for anything.  Legal speak:  This is trespassing and larceny. 
  10. Don’t let this list prevent you from having a nice time in the orchard, but be careful out there; the fields are full of crime.


Have a sampling station in the field (if health restrictions allow) with those slips of paper one gets at sushi restaurants that provides

  • A chart where people can mark off what apples they like and want to pick
  • A key to identify a quantity range for how many apples make up a pound
  • An apple locator map on the back

Then, very visibly identify the tree and apple types.

ADDED BONUS FOR READING TO THE END:  the best apple in the world is Macoun.

©2011 by Alison Colby-Campbell

12 thoughts on “Apple Picking Etiquette”

  1. Thanks for the apple-pickin’ tips. I was at Smolak today, the trees are ablaze and heavy with apples. And though tempted, I broke none of the rules and even kept my shirt and shoes on. Say, speaking of temptation; is the Apple actually mentioned in the bible?


    1. Lisa, Many people believe it was a pomegranate and not an apple that was the problem and now considering the health benefits of the pomegranate we see that Eve started this whole woman as nurturer thing of always putting their own needs second to the needs of the family despite the consequences.


  2. You hit another one right out of the park!!! Thank you for your wealth of knowledge, and sense of humor. For all of your new readers, might I suggest your Brain4rent blog from last Fall regarding your lack of passion for the flower for Fall, Chrysanthymum 🙂


  3. Completely agree about Macouns. I went apple picking last weekend, and I’m afraid I may have broken some of your rules. Went to Westward Orchards in Harvard.


  4. Hi, I am an Owner of an orchard in Maine. I enjoyed your blog. Thank you for mentioning how an apple from the store is the same from an orchard, not there for free. I think many people dont realize that our trees are fragile and require so much work, that was something i think you covered beautifully. Thanks-Apple Farmer from Maine


    1. Hi Amanda, Thanks for commenting. Ya, I have to say I was more than amazed when I actually paid attention and saw kids and adults taking one bite out of several apples and throwing them to the ground, and then the stories from my favorite local orchards were just ridiculous. In any event, we are always in Maine, so feel free to say where your orchard is and how many types you grow, I support all people who do all the hard work so I can have a tasty treat! I got a real education when my local farm let me in on the secrets of corn growing too. That blog was Lend Me Your Ear” So much we all take for granted. Keep doing what you do, we need you. Alison


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