Passing through central Utah any time soon? If so, the apricot harvest is just about to get under way at Capitol Reef National Park.
Palm-sized and juicy, the fruit will be available for picking for $1 a pound beginning Wednesday, June 27, and continue into early July.
On Wednesday picking will be allowed in the historic Mulford, Gifford and Johnson Orchards. These orchards are all located south of the visitor center along the Scenic Drive. Fee stations with scales for weighing fruit are provided in each open orchard. There is no charge for fruit consumed in the orchards. Fenced orchards are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; unfenced orchards remain open during daylight hours.
Apricots will be available for harvest in the Smith, Cook, Adams and Mott Orchards, beginning Tuesday, July 3. These orchards are all located within one mile of the visitor center along the Scenic Drive or Highway 24.
Additional fruit harvest information is recorded on the Capitol Reef Fruit Hotline as fruit ripens and specific harvest start dates are determined. The fruit hotline may be reached by calling (435) 425-3791. Once the park number connects, press "one" for general information and at the voice prompt for the orchard hotline, press "five."
Climbing fruit trees is not permitted in the park. The National Park Service provides special fruit picking ladders. Use care when picking fruit and carefully read and follow posted instructions on fruit picking and ladder use.
Capitol Reef National Park uses the receipts from fruit sales to defray the cost of maintaining the orchards. The historic Fruita orchards are among the largest in the National Park System and were established beginning in the 1880s by pioneer residents of Fruita.
Apricot Varieties at Capitol Reef
(Chinese) Sweet Pit. Also called Chinese Golden, Sweet Pit, Mormon Chinese, Large Early Montagemet or Chinese Mormon, this apricot may have been brought into Utah from Chinese immigrants that carried it into the Great Basin from California, while working on railroads and in mines. It spread north from there, well into British Columbia, at the limits of where apricots can survive. It is called a "sweet pit" because you can eat the oil-rich kernel like you would an almond, as well as enjoying the flavorful fruit. It is available from ten nurseries.
This clingstone is medium in size—up to two and a half inches in diameter-- and has yellow to deep orange skin that is nearly free of fuzz. Its sweet, firm fruit are juicy, and their flavor, texture and quality are good, but the fruit ripen on the tree over an extended period, making a single harvest difficult. The fruit are good for home-use, drying, and roadside markets. They are susceptible to moth and insect damage, but well suited to both northern climes and high elevations. The trees are early bearing, heavy producers except where frosts persist very late in the spring. The spreading tree grows fifteen to eighteen feet tall, is self-fruitful, and blooms somewhat later than most varieties.
Chinese apricot trees can be found in the Nels Johnson Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park.
Moorpark. Originating as a chance seedling of a Nancy apricot, this heirloom was selected by Admiral Anson at his estate in Hartford, England around 1860. It remains widely available from nurseries.
This is a very large, round freestone apricot with fuzz-free, deep yellow skin that blushes orange. Its deep orange flesh is juicy and delectable. Good for shipping, canning, or drying, it is a good shipper. Its trees have showy pinkish white blossoms and are self-fertile. The dwarf version of Moorpark grows up to ten feet tall and is an early, dependable producer.
Moorpark apricot trees grow in the Mulford Orchard and in the Nels Johnson Orchard of Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef's orchards also produce peaches, pears, and apples. To find the approximate harvest dates for these fruits, visit this site. For some history on the park's apple orchards, dig into the Traveler's archives.