It’s harvest season, and that’s the busiest time of the year if you’re running an orchard. I figured that out right away, in my first year living in Granford, Massachusetts.

I’m Meg Corey, owner of Warren’s Grove orchard, fifteen acres of mixed apple trees, heirloom and modern, old and new. I have one full time employee, my manager Briona Stewart, but we have too many trees for two people to handle. We hire pickers for the peak of the season, between August and early November, more or less—it depends on when the apples decide to ripen, and I don’t have any say in that.

The pickers are Jamaican, and many of them have been coming to this area, and this particular orchard, for years. They know a heck of a lot more than I do about how to harvest a crop. I do know that you have to be careful with apples. If you handle them too roughly, you bruise them, and then you can’t sell them. Worse, once the rot starts it can spread to other apples (remember the old saying, “One bad apple spoils the barrel”? It’s true.). That means you can’t just yank an apple off the tree and pitch it into a crate. You have to pick one at a time, twisting them gently so you don’t damage the branch—you’re going to need that branch next year. I’ve pitched in with picking when we were short-handed, and I know it’s hard work.

Luckily I don’t have to go far to work: the orchard is just up the hill from my house. I kind of inherited both of them, and I’ve learned a lot about both in a year. The house was built by one of my ancestors, and when I have time I do a little online research on the families back a century or two. But not in the fall! Because it’s old, the house has given me a few problems: when I first moved in, the septic system gave up the ghost, and last winter the furnace died in the middle of a blizzard. Thank goodness I live next door to a plumber!

This orchard used to be run by the University of Massachusetts, but when I moved here I decided I should take over and try to make a living with it. The University sold the apples to whatever big company wanted them, but Bree and I have been talking to the people who manage farm stands around here, who sell our apples. People are more interested in the heirloom varieties these days, I’m told, so we get a good price for them.

Any farming is a risky business these days! Too much or too little rain, a big storm at the wrong time, even an invasion of nasty insects or fungus can ruin your crop, no matter how hard you work. Still, when everything comes together and I can look at my tidy rows of trees, all loaded with ripe apples, I feel proud. It’s really nice to have something you can hold in your hand (and eat!) after all your hard work.
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You can read more about Meg in BITTER HARVEST, the fifth book in the “Orchard” mystery series. The first book in the series is ONE BAD APPLE.

After exploring careers ranging from art historian to investment banker to professional genealogist, Sheila Connolly began writing mysteries in 2001, and is now a full-time writer. She writes the Orchard Mystery series, the most recent of which is BITTER HARVEST, as well as the Museum Mystery series, based in Philadelphia, which includes FUNDRAISING THE DEAD and LET’S PLAY DEAD. In addition, she’s working on a new series set in Ireland, that will debut in 2013. Sheila lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and three cats. Visit Sheila at www.sheilaconnolly.com.

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