Pumpkin growers work 12-14-hour days during harvest season.

Harvest is at the heart of fall farming in Virginia

Fall harvest season is the busiest for many farmers. Across Virginia, crop harvests begin in late summer and continue into the cooler weeks of fall. Some require heavy equipment, while others call for hand work. All require attention to weather conditions.

Apple Harvest

Dickie Brothers Orchard in Nelson County grows 100 acres of apples and 16 different varieties. Owner Tommy Bruguiere said they begin harvesting apples in mid-August when the Galas are ready to be picked.

picking apples

“We don’t quit harvesting until the first week of November when the Pink Lady apples are ripe,” he said. “We’re harvesting every day during that time period. We also grow peaches and harvest those in July, along with nectarines and plums, so we stay busy.”

Once the apples are picked, they are put into cold storage, which will keep them fresh for several months. All of the apples are washed and brushed before they are sold to the public, Bruguiere said.

Pumpkin harvest

Between Labor Day and Halloween, the stems are cut off 50,000 to 70,000 pumpkins at Brann & King Pumpkin Farm in Montgomery County.

Partners Dan Brann and Chuck King have grown pumpkins commercially since 1999. They supply pumpkins for 25 stores in southwestern Virginia, and Brann & King Pumpkin Farm banners are displayed over 300 to 1,000 pumpkins at those stores.

‘Between Labor Day and Halloween, stems are cut off more than 50,000 pumpkins at one Virginia farm.’ (Click to Tweet)

During the harvest season, “there’s something to do every day—usually for 12 to 14 hours,” Brann said. They sell the last of the pumpkins by Oct. 28.

bee hives

Grape Harvest

Lew Parker, owner and winemaker at Willowcroft Farm Vineyards in Loudoun County, harvests about 7,000 pounds of grapes each fall..

“All harvesting is done by hand,” Parker said, explaining that the harvester “is the last quality control for the vineyard. The harvester can see if a grape is rotten or not quite ripe. If you use a machine, you harvest all of the grapes, even the rotten ones. Machinery used to harvest grapes also is quite expensive.”

Willowcroft’s grape harvest begins in late August, and the last variety typically is harvested in mid-to-late October.

Grain Harvest

From early September through Thanksgiving, Dave Black spends every day and most nights harvesting corn, planting winter wheat and then harvesting soybeans.

Each year, he and his dad grow about 630 acres each of corn, soybeans and wheat on Heritage Farms, which consists of three farms in Charles City County: one on 425 acres of land rented from Westover Plantation, one on 330 acres rented from Berkeley Plantation and another on 500 acres of their own land.

In some respects, Black said, harvest time is a lot like the regular lives of busy non-farming people with jobs and children. “Like them, we have to work around the kids and their social calendars.”

grain harvesting

Cotton Harvest

Shelley and Joe Barlow of Suffolk and their son, Joey, grow about 400 acres of cotton. On a particularly good day, they can harvest about 50 acres.

The Barlows begin harvesting cotton the second full week of October. Essentially, harvesting field crops “cancels out any other activities” for several weeks each fall, Shelley noted.

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Fall landscaping:

‘People love mums,’ and they’re easy to grow

Burgundy, burnt orange, purple, pink and yellow are all colors of the hardy chrysanthemum, one of the most popular plants in Virginia’s fall gardens.

“People love mums,” said Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist at Virginia State University. “In the fall they’re one of the few plants that are blooming during September and October.”

“He suggests watering them just about every day in the fall. You might cut back a little bit as the season progresses,” he said. “In terms of fertilizer, they don’t need a whole lot. Sometimes the grower will put a little slow-release fertilizer in the pot, and as they’re blooming anyway they don’t need a lot of fertilizer.”

While many people simply throw away mums when the fall ends, the plants are perennials and can be planted outdoors for year-round enjoyment.

Mums prefer full sun but can thrive in partial shade as long as they get sun for half a day.

sedum plant
coleus plant

A little planning can pay off in fall colors

Planting sedum, coleus and impatiens or butterfly bushes and Rose of Sharon in bright, fall colors can add a splash of color to a sedate, pre-winter landscape, said horticulturalist Mark Viette.

He suggested placing flowers between shrubs and using different varieties of plants when designing for fall color. And he noted that some plants, like coleus and impatiens, might need some winter accommodations.

“Tender tropical annuals and perennials just cannot take the frosts we have in Virginia,” Viette said, but you can save your plants from year to year by storing them in a temperature-controlled environment.

Before frost becomes an issue, dig up the entire plant, and place it in a pot. Put pots in a crate that has holes in it, and store them in a basement or a temperature-controlled garage. They can be replanted in late June. Viette recommended planting them in groups of five for visual impact.