Laurie Noble greeted everyone in the line wending up the driveway at Noble Orchards in Paradise, California, one recent Saturday. Laurie and Jim Noble had extended an invitation, and word was out. People responded to the invitation, “come pick apples for free,” and by the end of the first three days, over 1,400 people had left the orchard with bags and buckets of apples. “You’re helping us,” Laurie called to those in line, “If we don’t get the apples off the trees, bears are going to climb up there and break every limb.” Beyond the fence enclosing the apple trees where people pick, piles of bear scat, resplendent with apple chunks, lent truth to Laurie’s fears.
During these first days, Gala apples beckoned, 25,000 pounds of them. Coming up would be Jonathans, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Rome, Granny Smith, and finally Fuji apples. No Pink Lady apples though, since the buds on those trees, first to appear in spring, had fed the Paradise deer. Still, with so many other apple varieties ripening, Laurie expects to keep the orchard open for picking through October. People can take home whatever they pick, no charge. She’s offered a single guideline: wear long pants and closed-toed shoes. Hours on picking days run 7:30am to 4pm.
The apple trees are pretty much all that remain of Noble Orchards since the Camp Fire roared through Paradise on November 8, 2018, those and the skeletons of a couple of old stone buildings. The Nobles’ house, the cold storage building, several outbuildings, the orchard irrigation system, the fire took them all. Nine months post-fire, much of the debris has been removed, along with some burned pines. The orchard’s soil hasn’t been tested for contaminants since the fire, but Laurie notes that their water has tested free of a concerning toxin, benzene. As for the future: the Nobles are taking their cue from the stillvibrant orchard: by next season, they will reinvent as an even more welcoming apple operation.
In the orchard that Saturday, many felt welcome. Singles and couples, old and young, parents with children in tow, all picked. One pair hailed from Utah; they were in Paradise for a class reunion. Several local kids munched on apples; they wiped away apple juice as it ran down their chins. Most planned apple giveaways, to their mothers, their neighbors, at their church the following day, into school lunch bags, and even to whole classrooms.
Learn more about Noble Orchard’s apple harvest days on the orchard’s Facebook page. Picking days are scheduled around post-fire cleanup on the property. Remember, long pants and closed-toed shoes. And bring bags and buckets.
7050 Pentz Road in Paradise