Since 1935, Blue Jay Orchards has brought smiles to the faces of those living in the town of Bethel and nearby. Blue Jay is a staple here and you know autumn is near when they reopen for the season. There’s nothing quite like going apple picking on a crisp, cool, New England autumn day.
In 1934, Robert S. Josephy, a New York native wanting to start a life for himself as a farmer, purchased 50 acres in Bethel on which he started an apple and dairy farm. This established Blue Jay Orchards, the first pick-your-own apple orchard in Fairfield County. Fifty years later in 1985, he retired and sold the business to its current owners, Paul and Mary Patterson. The Pattersons worked tirelessly to build Blue Jay Orchards into what it is today. The farm spans over 122 acres on Plumtrees Road and has 20 varieties of apples growing. Though not all of the varieties are available for pick-your-own, they are all used in the recipes for Blue Jay’s most famous baked goods. Chris Seifrit, the manager of Blue Jay, jokes about their famous apple cider donuts, “I don’t get phone calls asking if apples are available - I get phone calls asking if the donuts are available.”
When the Pattersons first purchased the farm in 1985, and again in 2004, there was a late frost in May that devastated the entire apple crop. One of the difficulties of farming is that growers are at the mercy of Mother Nature – the weather can be unpredictable. Early this season, they had to address a rather large outbreak of fire blight on the trees, a disease that makes the leaves appear scorched and can eventually kill a tree if not treated. Chris said they spent a long time cutting off any appearances of fire blight and got it away from the trees to prevent further spread. Then, they sprayed a soap-like copper solution on the crops to kill off and prevent any residual fireblight from damaging the crops. The copper can cause a russeting effect, almost like a sunburn on the apple skins, and though it may not look perfect, they are still completely fine to eat.
In addition to the fire blight, the team of farmers at Blue Jay also had to deal with this year’s incredibly dry conditions. Chris explained, “We don’t have a trickle irrigation system so it was challenging this year. Apples like water but they also don’t like a ton of water, so it’s like a balancing act. This year with the severe drought, the apples are smaller than usual, but we do have a lot of them. When they’re smaller, there’s a higher sugar content, so the flavor is great.”
They opened on September 1st for the 2022 season and the farm was bustling for their opening weekend! Chris says on a weekend during the peak part of the season, they can get as many as 5,000 visitors to the farm. It’s a great opportunity to do something fun with your family and friends. This year, they will not be offering hay rides, school field trips, or the observation honeybee hive due to staff shortages, but they hope to bring these activities back in the future.
This weekend, October 1st and 2nd, the Jonagold, Cortland, Stayman, Winesap, Red Delicious, and Idared varieties are available for pick-your-own. The pumpkin patch is open and they also have a nice selection of gourds. Since they have a lot of apples this year, Chris is hopeful that they will be able to offer pick-your-own until late October. They will be open Monday through Friday from 11am to 5pm and Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 5 pm until Christmas Eve, and the farm store will be open from 10am to 2pm. Chris says, “Come on out and have fun!”
For a full list of which pick-your-own varieties will be available every week, and for their farm rules and visiting guidelines, check out their website. And yes, at the time of publication, they have cider donuts in stock!