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Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004 12:38 am

Apple appeal

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School has started, cooler temperatures are just around the corner, and apple-picking time has begun. Your idea of a fresh apple may be a Red Delicious from the grocery store -- if so, expand your horizons this year and take a trip to a local apple orchard. Picking apples is an enjoyable activity for the whole family.

Apples are one of the most popular, flavorful, and healthy fruits. American consumers eat an average of 45 pounds of fresh apples and processed apple products each year.

More than 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States. In central Illinois, Ozark Gold, McIntosh, Gala, Honeycrisp and Jonalicious are among the first varieties to become available, starting in late August. Varieties available now through mid-September include Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Red Delicious, Suncrisp, Empire, and Melrose. From late September through mid-October, look for Blushing Golden, Mutsu (also called Crispin), Fuji, Winesap, Arkansas Black, Braeburn, and Northern Spy apples. The last to ripen is the Granny Smith, beginning in late October.

Some apples are great for eating fresh; others are better suited for baking. For information about apple varieties and their particular uses, visit University of Illinois Extension's "Apples and More" Web page, www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/apples/index.html. This site also contains information on the facts and history of apples, growing and preserving apples, and apple recipes.

Here are a few tips to make your apple-picking experience pleasant:

• Call the orchard to confirm its hours of operation and to find out whether the apple varieties you prefer are available.

• Wear clothes that you won't mind getting dirty.

• Ripe apples should be easy to pick with their stems attached. Roll or twist the apple so that its stem separates from the tree. Handle fruits carefully after picking to avoid bruising. Do not pick up apples that are already on the ground.

• Watch out for yellowjackets.

Area orchards include the Apple Barn in Chatham, 217-483-6236; Jefferies Orchard in Springfield, 217-487-7401; Rocky Creek Apples in Petersburg, 217-632-3321; and Sabattini Garden Center in Springfield, 217-529-3620

Freshly picked apples are also available at the downtown farmers' market, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, through Oct. 30.

Fall lawn care

Early fall is the ideal time to think about lawn care. Most Illinois lawns are made up of cool season grasses that thrive in late fall, early winter, and spring. Whether you are aerating, fertilizing or seeding, a few hours spent on your lawn this fall will be time well spent come next year.

To find out how to get your lawn into the best shape for 2005, attend a class led by David Robson, a horticulture unit educator with the University of Illinois Extension.

Robson's class, "Fall Lawn Care," will be offered at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at the U. of I. Extension Building at the fairgrounds. It will be repeated at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9. The cost is $2.

Call 782-4617 to reserve a seat and obtain a packet of information.

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