LAKE CRYSTAL (AP) -- Larry Harbo walks through his family's orchard every day in the late summer and throughout the fall, checking his crop and, of course, eating some apples.
"I probably eat about 5 pounds of apples a day," he said.
Talk about keeping the doctor away.
It's all in the name of business, of course. He has to make sure the Cortlands are crisp and the Regents are ripe and that Welsh Heritage Farms' customers keep coming back to its roadside stand each fall.
The peak of apple season is fast approaching and Harbo said he already has seven varieties of apples available. Another eight kinds will ripen and be ready this week.
"It's an excellent, excellent crop, the best I have seen in many years in terms of quality and size," Harbo said.
Ana Carleton of Good Thunder was at the roadside stand one recent afternoon, along with her neighbor Kirsten Phelps, tasting freshly picked Haralsons and Wealthies.
"I love to make apple pies and apple cobblers," Carleton said. "But I wait for the fall apples."
Once Labor Day rolls around, people start thinking about apples, said Dwain Merickel, owner of Irish Mountain Orchard near Elysian. Merickel's stand opened for the first time Sept. 23, but he said he's been getting calls since school started.
"Come the first of September, they want their apples, but they're just not ready then," said Merickel, who has been growing apples since 1988.
Harbo, who starts selling early season apples, such as State Fairs and Beacons, in early August, said he thinks people are drawn to orchards because of the fruit's freshness.
"It's right off the tree, and there's not much storage before they're buying it," he said.
Said Phelps, who was making her first trip to Welsh Heritage Farms: "I'd much rather buy apples here than at the grocery store."
The Harbos began the first of a series of apple festivals -- in Welsh, Gwyl gan Afals -- Sept. 23 that features samples of soups, jams, ciders and, of course, pies. (Harbo bakes the pies on a grill.)
Welsh foods are also available, as well as events for kids. Ann Fletcher and her family have made visiting the orchard a regular stop several times each autumn.
"It has a nice, cozy, country feel to it," said Fletcher, who moved to Mankato from the East coast 13 years ago.
Fletcher and her daughter, Julia Gilbert, left Welsh Heritage Farms with two caramel apples, one for Julia and one for Julia's brother. But as they got to the car, Fletcher must have felt the fall air for the first time. She marched back inside the stand and bought a third caramel apple -- one for herself.
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