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JOHNSTON: Take time to take in sights, tastes of fall
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JOHNSTON: Take time to take in sights, tastes of fall

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Apple picking is a delicious fall pastime.

This should be a colorful autumn.

There has been plenty of rain (to say the least) of late and wet ground is conducive to beautiful fall leaves.

In addition, we have had some dramatically cooler weather, to which leaf color also responds.

Already the dogwoods have turned and the walnut leaves are falling. I have even seen a few maples that are starting to change color. Three weeks from now, the colors will peak in the Shenandoah National Park.

Summer gardens are pretty much history, but I’ve seen some really nice broccoli, cabbage and greens taking off. All I have left is some okra, which is now 10 feet tall and still producing.

Walnuts, like their leaves, are also beginning to drop to the ground and will dull your mower blade if you don’t pick them up before cutting the grass.

I have already begun collecting, hulling and drying walnuts that I will begin cracking about the first of November.

I still have plenty in the freezer but, hey, you can’t have too many walnuts, because this could be a long winter. Nothing better than walnut brownies and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.

Most varieties of fall apples are now being picked, and from the looks of trees on the mountainsides in Rappahannock County, there should be a bumper crop this year.

My favorites are red and Golden Delicious and they should be ready by now. Like watermelons, cantaloupes and grapes, the sweetness of apples depends on the amount of rainfall. Too much rain dilutes the sugar, so during seasons such as we have just had, the fruit might not be as sweet as in dry years. But fresh apples are always delicious.

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Early-to-mid-October is a good time to dry apples, something country folks used to do every year. The process is simple: peel, core and cut apples into half-inch slices and put them on cloth, like a sheet, atop something metal (old-timers used a shed roof) in the sun for about a week. When they are dried, put them in cheesecloth bags and hang them in a dry, airy place. You can have dried apple pie all winter.

October is also the time to make apple butter, and I know of one area family that cooks this sweet treat every year.

I haven’t heard anything about the pumpkin crop, but when I was growing them, long stretches of wet weather were not good. Still, I have seen quite a few at roadside stands, so there should be enough for every child and some left over for pumpkin pies.

Halloween is on a Saturday this year, which would be perfect for trick-or-treating. Given the COVID pandemic, however, it is still uncertain how this traditional celebration will take place. One thing seems certain, however, everybody will be wearing masks on Halloween.

Much has been made of the fact that there will be a full moon on Halloween, but actually the moon becomes full Oct. 27, which means the moon will be waning on Halloween night. Still, it will be full enough to catch a glimpse of a witch riding across the sky on her broomstick.

One of the best things about this cool weather is that the grass in my yard has slowed its growth. For six weeks, beginning about Aug. 1, I was mowing twice a week, and I despise mowing grass.

Some would contend that mowing grass is better than shoveling snow, but I disagree. You just leave snow there long enough and it eventually melts. You leave grass alone and it turns into a jungle.

Speaking of grass, some farmers are still making hay. In mid-July when it was dry, everyone was wondering if there would even be a second cutting of hay. Now, with all the rain, some fields are ready for a third cutting. With shorter days and heavy dews, however, it takes a long time for cut hay to dry this time of year.

It is hard to believe, but we are only a month away from Halloween, eight weeks away from Thanksgiving and 12 weeks away from Christmas. This year, thankfully for most, is rapidly coming to a close.

But we still have the beauty of autumn left, so take walks in the woods, sit by a warm fire under a chilly moon and chew on a fresh apple. Fall is a time when, at least in the country, things slow down and one can relax a bit.

Enjoy the world around you.

Columnist Donnie Johnston lives in Culpeper County. Email him at

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