Though it's still early in the apple-picking season, Ackerman Farms' supply has been plucked to its core.

Though it's still early in the apple-picking season, Ackerman Farms' supply has been plucked to its core.

"For all intents and purposes, we're cleaned out," Ackerman Farms co-owner John Ackerman said. "We just stopped sending people out because (the apples) are few and far between."

A late freeze in March caught the apples in their blossom stage, damaging them from the start. What apples Ackerman had were nearly gone soon after he opened Aug. 23, though the farm still has pumpkins.

"It's just a timing thing," Ackerman said. "We live hand-in-hand here with Mother Nature."

Other area orchards are finding that timing fruitful, as a hot August followed by cooler weather ripened apples earlier than usual.

Richard Tanner, co-owner of Tanner's Orchard in Speer, said hot weather brought moisture, pushing the apples to maturity and launching the season seven to 10 days ahead of schedule. But the apples' appearance is attributed to lower temperatures.

"The cool weather is what really puts the color on the apples and helps them ripen," Tanner said. "It increases the sugar content."

With expected weekend temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln, Tanner is gearing up for a busy Saturday and Sunday. He anticipates between 9,000 and 10,000 visitors who'll pick apples, sample cider and peruse pies, jellies and jams.

"A lot of them - it's tradition," Tanner said. "Their grandparents brought their parents, and the parents bring their kids. People want to get out and get back to the farm and see how things really grow."

The most popular variety at Tanner's is Honey Crisp because of its attractive exterior.

"It's an excellent juicy, crunchy apple and the appearance of it is a red blush on a yellow background," Tanner said.

It's also prime time for fall mums, which have begun to bloom and should be in full color by next week.

Tanner's offers mums in red, brown, pink, lavender, rust-orange and white.

Mary Downen, an assistant manager at Apple Blossom Farm along Illinois Route 91, said people think of mums when they think of fall.

"Within the next week or two, they'll be flying out the door," she said. "When they start to bloom, with all the beautiful colors – people associate mums with fall."

Of course, people also associate apples with fall, and that's a big reason families head out to Apple Blossom.

"It's family time more than anything," Downen said. "Picking apples off the tree is what brings them out."

Joan Tankersley of Peoria and Christine Craft of Marquette Heights visited Apple Blossom on Tuesday afternoon to purchase apple cider doughnuts. They said they'll bring children and grandchildren with them when they return later this year.

"It's so much fun to be outside in the nice weather," Tankersley said. "We have lots of pictures of the grandkids picking apples."

Kurt Christ, co-owner of Christ Orchard in Elmwood, opened his orchard for picking Wednesday, a few days earlier than anticipated.

"They're just riper earlier," he said. "They're like people - they bloom at different times."

Christ said people particularly enjoy the Golden Delicious variety, which snaps and crunches, and provides a sweet taste. And some people prefer picking apples from a tree instead of a produce aisle.

"There's an experience people come back for every year," he said. "They gotta get that feel."

Peoria Journal Star

Jacqueline Koch can be reached at jkoch@pjstar.com.