Fans of Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard in Gretna, Neb., know that there’s always something new to discover each year. This year was the year of doing something new at Vala’s (at least, it’s new to me): Picking apples in their orchard. It’s the quintessential early fall activity in Nebraska! Here’s what to expect if you want to pick apples at Vala’s.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
Vala’s didn’t start growing apples until they planted their first tree in 2014, and they didn’t officially change their name to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard until 2018. But, as is my fashion, I’m late to the game and just now ventured into the orchard this year.
Picking apples doesn’t sound fun to you? Skip to the end, and I’ll tell you about the fun stuff near the apple orchard.
Vala’s Apple Orchard
There’s so much to do at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard, but you’ll want to set aside 30 to 45 minutes for time at the apple orchard.
What to expect at the orchard
The orchard area is located on the far northwest side of the Vala’s property, in an area aptly called Vala’s Apple Orchard & Cider Mill (see a map of Vala’s here). It’s a hike to get to it from the entrance, and there will be a lot of temptations along the way. You’ll pass play areas galore on your way.
If you go early in the apple picking season (September), I recommend arriving first thing in the morning (9 a.m.). For one thing, it will be cooler in the morning. But for another thing, arriving at 9 a.m. gives you an hour to give into those temptations and play, explore and then find the apple cider donuts. The orchard doesn’t open until 10 a.m., after all.
Once you arrive at the entrance of the apple orchard, the first order of business is to decide the size of bag you’re going to fill. The most common size of bags are a peck and a half-peck.
We’re a family of four who enjoys apples, but we’re unlikely to eat a peck of apples before some start to go bad, so we opted for a half-peck. This was a smart choice! The bag held plenty of apples. Unless you have a very large family or have some baking or canning plans for the apples, I don’t know if you’d need to fill any bag larger than a peck, but it’s your call.
Anyway. Once you’ve purchased that bag to fill, you get in line to take the wagon to the orchard.
Side note: The wagon is pulled by a tractor, it’s not a tiny real wagon. It’s not a long ride to the orchard. And when we went, there was not a long line to wait for the orchard. Win-win.
Once you arrive at the orchard, you’ll be told which variety of apples are ready for picking and which rows you can find them in. We were there in early September, and the only variety that was ready was the Honeycrisp, and I was more than fine with picking a bunch of those sweet things.
Tip: One of the Vala sisters, Kelsey, shared her recommendations: “For unique U-Pick varieties, I would recommend Idared, Winesap (an heirloom apple from the 1700s), Rome Beauty (heirloom variety from the 1800s), Goldrush, and Liberty. My personal favorite U-Pick apples are Shizuka, Sweet Zinger (not in our apple brochure yet, because they are younger trees), Autumn Crisp, Pink Lady, Evercrisp, and Goldrush. Is that too many to have as a favorite?!”
When your bag is full, walk back to the drop-off spot and wait for the wagon to return. Another short ride later, and you’re back at the orchard’s entrance.
The “secret” heirloom orchard
Did you know there’s a separate orchard at Vala’s? There’s an heirloom cider orchard that guests can’t pick out of, but you can view this orchard if you take a train ride. Look for it by Western Town!
The apples in that orchard are used in Vala’s Nebraska Heirloom cider, made from a mixture of old American, English and French cider apple varieties from 2022’s harvest. Some of these varieties include, Golden Russet (the first named American apple variety), Northern Spy, Harrison, Roxbury Russet, Arkansas Black, Franklin, Yarlington Mill, Bulmer’s Norman, Madaille d’Or, among others.
Fun fact: Whatever guests don’t pick through the U-Pick experience, Vala’s will pick for hard cider. No apple goes to waste!
Apple picking tips
OK, I know my first tip was to arrive early in the day to pick apples. However, give this some thought because you will have to carry that bag of apples around for the rest of the day. Your kids are not going to carry it. It will be on you to carry it. Trust me. I’m not complaining. I’m just sayin’.
Now for the real tips:
- The nature of apple orchards is that the trees aren’t going to be towering over you, blocking the sun, so remember to bring a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
- There are 30 acres of apples. Wear comfortable shoes. That’s Rule No. 1 for going to Vala’s, whether or not you go apple-picking.
- Bring a water bottle. This is Rule No. 2 for going to Vala’s.
- Apple picking is pretty easy and you don’t need any special tools for it. Find a ripe-looking apple, twist it three times, lift the apple so the bottom faces the sky, and then gently pull the apple from the branch.
- Not every apple looks “grocery store perfect.” Even apples with slight deformities will taste really delicious!
Things to do near the Vala’s Orchard and Cider Mill
The area around the orchard is a fairly new addition to Vala’s, and it’s one I love to visit! My favorite spot is the Cider Mill, and not just because there are hard ciders available. It’s a beautiful building, first of all, with a great patio for people watching.
Food options near Vala’s Orchard
The Cider Mill is a good spot to go after you’re finished in the orchard. You can cool off with an apple cider slushie and grab a snack or two. You can get Vala’s popular donuts there, of course, or try one of the new food items offered in 2023. The Caramel Apple Boat is a ridiculously gooey treat that kids will love. Think of it as a sundae where you get to pick two toppings (in addition to caramel), but instead of ice cream, it’s slices of apples. There are also large pretzels available, and a unique charcuterie board that involves a ginormous pretzel on it.
If you’re looking for more substantial food offerings, head to Ethan’s Applewood Smokehouse. It’s great barbecue, from the ribs to the brisket.
Note: In 2023, Vala’s started offering a Tasting Passport! Choose 5 items for $34.99. There are more than 40 items to choose from across 20 food locations on the farm. All 5 punches must be used during the 2023 season, but they do not all have to be used during one visit.
You can buy the Tasting Passport at any of the participating eateries. We got ours at the information booth right by the entrance. It’s actually called the In-FARM-ation Booth.
Hungry for more?
Fun things to do near the orchard
My daughter’s favorite ride at Vala’s is near the orchard: Stefan’s Country Drive. Kids can drive old-fashioned cars around a scenic route, a rail keeping them on the track. We have to drive the cars on every visit.
If you have young kids, they’re also going to enjoy the Orchard Play Yard. It’s next to the Apple Blasters. The Apple Blasters are pretty cool, but an extra fee to use. You can blast apples at targets.
Vala’s has two flower fields – which are, incidentally, fantastic photo opps – and the smaller garden of the two is located near the orchard. And just because I said “smaller of the two,” this field isn’t small. When we visited, huge sunflowers towered over us. This is the field where you can pick flowers to take home (for an extra fee). It’s also the location of the Monarch Butterfly Release events held during the Sunflower & Cider Festival.
I’d love to hear your stories and tips from your visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard. I look forward to hearing your favorite moments and hope to see you again for another day of apple-picking bliss!
FAQs about Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard
What types of apples can you pick in the orchard?
You can’t predict the exact time a variety you want to pick is ready, but you can get a good estimate of an apple variety’s harvest time. The exact timing can vary each year depending on the weather conditions. Check the Vala’s Orchard website for the most up-to-date information. It will announce which varieties are being picked that day.
The varieties of apples available for picking will depend on when you’re there. Generally speaking, in southeastern Nebraska, the best time for apple picking is typically from late August to October. ** I’m told that this year (2023), “everything is ripening about a week or so early.” So Vala’s is about to see a lot of apple varieties coming up that will be ripe at once, so the next few weeks will be their peak apple picking season.
Here’s a general guide to some apple varieties and their typical harvest times:
– Honeycrisp (Early to Mid-September)
– Jonathan (Mid-September)
– Red Delicious (Late September)
– Golden Delicious (Late September to Early October)
– Fuji (Mid to Late October)
– Granny Smith (Late October)
What are the hours of Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard?
Vala’s opens on the weekends in early September (typically Labor Day Weekend), and then is open daily in mid-September through the end of October. The pumpkin patch starts the daily hours on Sept. 15, 2023 and runs through Oct. 31, 2023. The daily hours in 2023 are:
Are there any discounts or coupons available for Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard?
Admission to Vala’s includes 50 attractions and live shows, including live music, children’s performers (like balloon artists), and rides like the train, carousel and that cool car ride I mentioned earlier.
And in addition to that, it is less expensive to visit Mondays through Thursdays, than to visit Fridays through Sundays. And Active military personnel and their families can purchase discounted tickets to Vala’s at the Offutt AFB ITT office. Tickets are valid any day of the season.
Can I leave Vala’s and return later in the day?
Yes! Be sure to ask for a wristband as you exit. When you return, simply show your wristband to the person taking tickets at the entrance. This is great for those times when you inevitably forget something in the car or there’s a cranky toddler in need of a nap.
FYI: A different color of wristband is used each day.
Is Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard pet-friendly?
Only service animals are permitted at Vala’s.