Summit Woodcock, 10, of Livermore picks apples with her grandfather, Jim Timberlake, at Boothby’s Orchard in Livermore on Maine Apple Sunday. Woodcock said she was picking Cortland apples with which she could bake apple pies. Farm owner Denise Boothby said the apples this year received just enough rain. “It was the year of just enough,” Boothby said. Visitors to Maine Apple Sunday paid by the bags of apples they picked rather than by weight, the only real change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Boothby. “People have been very patient this year,” she said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

TURNER — The unofficial start of the fall apple picking season kicked off Sunday as more than a dozen orchards across the state celebrated the 20th annual Maine Apple Sunday.

Linda Timberlake nibbles on an apple while she and her granddaughters talk with Annika Bragg, 16, and Adney Boothby, 11, at Boothby’s Orchard in Livermore on Maine Apple Sunday. Timberlake came with her granddaughters Scout Woodcock, far left, and Summit Woodcock, far right, to pick Cortland apples for homemade apple pies. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In central and western Maine, three apple orchards — Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Boothby’s Orchard in Livermore and Vista of Maine in Greene — participated in what the Maine Pomological Society calls the first day “when summer apples are still available but the main crop is ready for its first pick.”

At Ricker Hill Orchards, the parking lots were full at the country store, cider tasting room and the apple orchard on Ricker Hill Road.

Jeff Timberlake, co-owner of Ricker Hill Orchards, said that while Maine Apple Sunday is not the busiest day of the year for the orchard, it represents a “good opportunity to get people excited about apple picking.”

“Our busiest time is usually two weeks from now,” Timberlake said, “but the crowds are looking great today. It helps the weather has been nice.”

Ricker Hill Orchards has participated in Maine Apple Sunday “every year since it started,” Timberlake said, adding that at a time when the country is still struggling to protect itself from COVID-19, “something like Maine Apple Sunday is a nice distraction.”

“We have 25 acres of land out here,” Timberlake said, gesturing towards the orchard. “It gives people a chance to feel normal.”

Boothby Orchard’s owner Denise Boothby says that while she has heard apples in some areas of Maine are somewhat small this year, she and her husband, Rob, have been happy with the size of the apples. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Matt and Catie Witham, who were apple picking at Ricker Hill Sunday afternoon with their two children Declan and Rowan said they typically go apple picking two or three times a year, and that Sunday’s visit to Ricker Hill was their “first of the year.”

“We live in Norway, but we like Ricker Hill a lot,” Catie Witham said, “so we try and make it up here when we can.”

She said she and her family use the apples to make “crockpot apple sauce, apple pies and apple crisp.”

They said they would have been out in the orchard, even if it were not Maine Apple Sunday.

“I actually didn’t even know about Maine Apple Sunday,” Catie Witham said. “I’ve heard about Maine Maple Sunday, but not this. It’s nice.”

Tiffany Bond, a Portland lawyer and an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, said she was supposed to be in Rangeley on Sunday with her family, but after her husband, who serves as a merchant marine, was called into service, she and her family changed their plans.

“We go apple picking every year, usually to Ricker Hill, so we decided to do that instead,” Bond said.

Bond said she and her husband have spent the summer trying to find outdoor activities for their children to keep them busy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Apple picking is a great way to be outdoors and let the kids run around,” she said. “We’re planning to take the apples home and make some apple pies and applesauce.”

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