Monday, June 18, 2018

Summer bucketlist: picking peaches!

It started as a single peach orchard during the Great Depression. Today, Fisher’s Orchard includes three locations in Greer: farm stands on South Buncombe Road and on Locust Hill Road, and the orchard on Fisher Road. There is nothing quite like biting into the first, just-picked, juicy peach of the season… especially when you picked it yourself!


Up until the 1960s the Fishers sold most of its peaches to canneries or packed them up to ship by rail to out-of-state markets. Then in 1968 the local cannery’s boiler blew up, and the Fishers ran an ad in the Greenville News for people to come pick their own peaches to avoid the bounty going to waste – and they’ve never looked back. The you-pick has continued to be a big success, and has just opened for the 2018 season!

Reminds me of a certain Upstate SC water tower!

Parking for you-pick is next to the farm stand, and visitors can pick up baskets as well as learn which varieties are currently picking. Early in the season you’ll find mostly clingstone varieties, although by July the semi-freestone and freestone varieties are also ripening; visit the Fishers website for a general guide and to learn the best uses for each variety. Take a look at the pricing before heading out to the orchard and plan how much you’ll pick; the second basket you pick costs less than the first.


If you don’t wish to pick your own, you’ll find plenty of already-picked peaches for sale, as well as jellies, honey, relish and cider. Based on the season you might find nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, as well as local produce including squash, zucchini, peppers, potatoes, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. The jams and jellies are made from family recipes with local produce; we made sure to pick up some peach preserves, made with peaches from the very orchard we picked from.


Today, South Carolina produces the most peaches of any state in the South (SC ships about twice the tons that our neighboring “peach state” of Georgia does!). However, you’ll find many of the big box stores selling peaches and nectarines from California; a shame, when the local ones taste so much better and are so easy to get! The u-pick orchard is about 30 minutes from Greenville, however the farm stands are closer and you can easily swing by while running errands in Greer. We combined our morning stop at Fishers with a couple of Park Hop stops, afterwards heading to the Greenville waterparks for a fun-filled summer day – just make sure to bring a cooler so that your delicious peaches don’t end up sitting in a hot car.


There are about 18,000 acres of peach orchards in South Carolina. While the Gaffney area is better known for their portion of the more than 200 million pounds of peaches harvested in SC every year, we love eating peaches picked from the orchards closest to home – the convenience of not having to drive very far, combined with the novelty of being able to pick our own means we’ll be eating peaches around here this summer nonstop! Now if you’ll please share your favorite recipes, I am thinking bread/muffins or maybe ice cream/smoothies… if there are any left.

Stay up to date with which varieties are picking and other info on the Fishers Orchard facebook page here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Rīga with Kids!

Congratulations! You’ve booked your trip to Latvia this summer, scored the hard-to-get tickets to the historic LV100 Dziesmu un Deju Svētki, and survived the 10 hour flight with your kiddos (extra points for each connection!). Now what? Some days are filled with concerts, cultural events and other LV100 opportunities, however you know that the children will need some downtime – a little time to explore and be kids. After being asked a couple of times for favorite spots to go as a family, I’ve put together a list of things to do with children in and around Rīga.


Parks


The easiest way to squeeze in some time outdoors is at one of the nearby parks. Vērmanes dārzs is one of our favorites as it is centrally located, has a playground with plenty of shaded benches around, and offers trampolines/bounce houses/kids car rides (for a small fee). Buy some ice cream or freshly spun cotton candy and explore the gardens, or time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals and tirdziņi that take place there every summer such as the Dziesmu svētku gadatirgus (July 1-8) or Rīgas svētki 2018 (August 17-19). Catch a concert on one of the stages and relax before heading further to Vecrīga.

Fellow blogger Brigita suggests the Centra sporta kvartāls park on Krišjāņa Barona iela for Rīga-themed and sports-based fun. You can read her post here – Rīga With Kids Tip.

The song festival wall in Viesturdārzs

Kronvalda parks takes you along the canal and past some cool statues and historical sites. If you’re in town for the song festival, you’ll want to visit the oldest park in Rīga, Viesturdārzs; also known as the song festival park, it has a reflecting pool with fountains and portrait wall dedicated to Dziesmu svētki. And adjacent to Brīvības piemineklis is Bastejkalns park, with memorials to those who died in 1991, the foundations of an old castle, a mini bridge with love locks, and scenic views of the canal. 

Activities


See Rīga from above! A neat way to get the lay of the land during the first days of your stay is by visiting one of the many places that offers a scenic view of the city. Svētā Petera baznīca provides one of our favorite views, although if you would like to enjoy the scenery while enjoying a drink in a retro bar, try Skyline Bar. The Radio tower is also an option, although a bit harder to get to from downtown Rīga.

The view from St. Peter's Church

Take a wooden boat tour of the Rīga canal! Combined with a short stretch of the Daugava River, the canal makes a big loop around Vecrīga - allowing for the distinctive opportunity to sightsee a city by boat.

Those who prefer to travel by land will want to walk the streets of Vecrīga. There is no better way to explore the cobblestoned streets and hidden courtyards of the old city than by foot! Sit down at an outdoor alus dārzs for ķiploku grauzdiņi for the kids, cross through the historic city gates, shop for everything from amber jewelry to folk music to children's literature, spot the cats adorning the infamous Kaķu nams, and admire the elegant beauty of the many churches while soaking in the history of the city that was born in 1201!

Spotted one of the cats!

Head to one of the many markets! Centrāltirgus is the biggest, and you can spend hours wandering through the giant zeppelin hangars. Buy some berries picked that morning while shopping for dinner, or just pick up a couple of souvenirs and ogle/smell the fish stalls.

Don't forget to eat! The LIDO chain is popular with many children and parents, simply because it lets them see the food they are ordering - which can be a relief for parents of fussy eaters or just those unfamiliar with Latvian cuisine. The LIDO Recreation Centre offers not just a meal, but a dining experience complete with live music and family recreation.


Educational opportunities


You’ll want to visit the magnificent National Library while you’re in Rīga, Gaismas pils. Older children might enjoy going on the free tour, while younger kids will love to spend some time in the children’s library. Make sure to take them to see the dainu skapis on the 5th floor that once stored the folk song collection of Krišjānis Barons.


Exploring the Art Nouveu District on a self-guided tour or with an official tour service might be a good choice for a group of varied ages. The younger children can have fun spotting all the animals & mythical creatures contained within the building facades, while older kids and adults can delve into the distinctive architectural unlike any in the world. 

Laima Chocolate Museum is a must for the chocolate lover.

The Rīga Zoo is just a tram ride away. It’s located adjacent to Mežaparks where you’ll find all sorts of other family-friendly activities such as a paintball center and a mini golf course.

Botāniskā dārzā

The Botanical Gardens of the University of Latvia can be a little harder to reach if you’re utilizing public transportation, but are worth the effort. Boasting an arboretum, palm house and butterfly house, the 40-acre gardens also have a rabbit enclosure that will delight smaller children. 

For a deeper look into the painful history of the Baltics, older children would benefit from a visit to the Okupācijas muzējs. Note, this museum is more appropriate for young adults than young children, and delves into very serious subject matter. However for those of us who grew up outside of Latvia, it offers insight into the tragic years that shaped our tēvuzeme

There are dozens of museums in Rīga, it’s just a matter of finding one to suit your interests. See if this post by Family With Kids helps: Things to Do and See with Kids in Riga, a Family Vacation in Latvia
  

LV100/Dziesmusvētki


In addition to all the ticketed events there will be many free, open to the public concerts and other events taking place across the city. One of our favorites is the Dziesmu svētku gājiens, where every song and dance festival participant parades down Brīvības ielas on the final day of the festival. 

Check out the Live Rīga website for events taking place across the city in honor of LV100 and the song festival.



Day Trips


Cross Lielupe to reach Jūrmala, 20 miles of beach on the Baltic Sea. Each municipality has its own distinct vibe, so with a little research you’ll quickly find the area that best suits your needs. Or, if you don’t want to go all the way to Jūrmala, stop at Līvu akvaparks for waterpark fun.


If you’re looking to head to the beach but want something a little quieter than Jūrmala, try heading east, to Saulkrasti. Need a little extra convincing? Take a look at these photos...

Ķemeru nacionālais parks is the closest National Park to the capital, and has miles of trails and boarwalks that explore the unique ecosystems within.

The bogs of Ķemeri National Park

And about an hour east of Rīga (by car) you’ll find Sigulda (and neighboring Krimulda), with Gūtmaņala and the ancient castle of Turaida, all popular tourist destinations.


I hope you enjoy your time in Rīga, and urge you to make the absolute most of your time there! Dziesmu svētki in Latvia are a unique chance to see the country all dressed up for the festivities, and to sample the many cultural, natural, historical and culinary experiences it has to offer. I would love to hear what your favorite places were to visit as a family, and please let me know what I’ve missed. Safe travels!!!



Monday, June 11, 2018

Strawberries to sunflowers at Beechwood Farms

Strawberry-picking season is drawing to a close, but that just means things are really getting started at an Upstate favorite, Beechwood Farms!


The slogan “Where the Pickin’s Good!” greets visitors on a sign out on Highway 276 headed into Marietta, SC. Located just 20 minutes north of Greenville, the farm has long been a favorite of Greenville schools for field trips to pick strawberries, although locals know it for their farm stand filled with seasonally fresh produce.


And the pickin’ is good… Even this late in the season you’ll quickly fill up your bucket with some of the sweetest strawberries around! U-pick is easy; you pull in to get pails (or you can bring your own, but you’re not allowed to pick into bags) and get instructions on which field is ripe, then you drive out onto the fields, pick your strawberries, and finally return to the ‘drive through’ to pay for your haul (on our recent visit it was $11.00/gallon you-pick and $15.00 pre-picked). You’ll want to plan to pick early in the morning before the sun gets too hot, and please remember to bring water and sunscreen!


You’re always welcome to buy already-picked berries, and you’ll find plenty at the roadside market while they’re in season. Along with berries and veggies you’ll find other seasonal produce and goods, and prices are very reasonable. For a list of what fruits & vegetables are currently available, check out the Beechwood Farms Facebook page; we picked up some okra, beets and cucumbers on our visit, and the squash, zucchini and greens also looked delicious! 


Lots of pick-your-own fields are open throughout the summer. It is a great opportunity to teach your children about where their food comes from, with the added benefit of fresh veggies. Pull up to the drive-through to find out what is picking in which field.


If the kids are along, head over to the playground to run off some more energy. If they tire of the playsets and swings, they can visit with the resident goats in their nearby pen.


The most anticipated time of year on the farm may be sunflower season. On our recent visit one field of sunflowers was already blooming, and we received permission to pick a few stems. However, these were just volunteer flowers that planted themselves from last year’s crop… the BIG field will be blooming in late summer and you won’t want to miss visiting the farm when it is ablaze in yellow! Professional photographers are welcome (for fee info and to schedule appointments email theresa (at) mybeechwoodfarms (dot) com), however individuals can take photographs for free with a purchase of sunflowers or from the farmstand. Walking among the rows of bright yellow flowers brought back memories of our time in France; there sunflowers were grown to make huile de tournesol, but the magical feeling of walking on sunshine is the same.

See related post: Sunflowers


In the fall Beechwood offers fields trips for students of all ages. For a hands-on learning experience geared towards the age of your students, contact theresa (at) mybeechwoodfarms (dot) com for more info and to schedule your outdoor learning experience. Similar field trip options are offered in the spring, and not only to schools but to homeschool groups and daycares as well.


October brings the annual ‘Fall Family Fun Days’ which include horse rides, hay rides to the pumpkin patch & sunflower hill, vendors with food, bread and baked goods, and farm animals. Beechwood Farms also has a pumpkin patch for when Halloween rolls around, along with fall decorations, a corn maze, and haunted hayrides. The end of October marks the end of the Beechwood Farms season, although it’s never long until spring is back and Beechwood is celebrating the new season and hosting their May strawberry festival!


To keep up with seasonal offerings and events at Beechwood Farms, you can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hidden Falls via the Foothills Trail

Hidden Falls is one of those hikes that really has it all: wildflowers and a waterfall, long enough as to be a challenge yet the terrain is moderate allowing for a family hike. It utilizes the western-most section of the Foothills Trail, the 77-mile trail that will take you all the way to Table Rock State Park. And finally, while it originates in Oconee State Park it also crosses into the Andrew Pickens District of Sumter National Forest, showcasing the best of both in a compact day-trip package.


Oconee State Park was established in 1935, and the Foothills Trail was in place by 1981 – a benefit of this longevity is a spacious parking lot and a well-marked trail. The trail to Hidden Falls starts at the Foothills Trailhead, which can be reached by following the Park Road towards Cabins 7-13. Wooden kiosks show the Foothills trail in its entirety and a map of the park, and a kiosk across the road allows visitors to self-register before continuing on.


Although this is a good trail to hike in the spring (higher water flow means the falls are flowing), I would recommend hiking it in mid-June through early July for a very good reason; the blueberries that surround the trail are ripening over this period and provide a great incentive to slow your pace and enjoy the forest as you search for the tiny berries that taste so much sweeter for the miles hiked. We lucked out, with a higher-than usual rainfall in previous weeks along with the needed temperatures for the wild berries to ripen.


The first intersection is with a dirt road, the Oconee Connector of the Palmetto Trail. This trail crosses Station Mountain to connect Oconee State Park with Oconee Station, part of the planned 500-mile trail that will hopefully one day stretch in a continuous ribbon from the mountains near Walhalla all the way to the sea (see more on the Oconee Passage here). Head straight and a little bit further you’ll reach a T in the trail; the Tamassee Knob Trail heads 1.6 miles east to a scenic vista, while the Foothills Trail continues west, to the left.


Hickories and pines dominate the overstory on this side of Station Mountain, mountain laurel and rhododendron providing splashes of color here and there. After descending a few steps hikers emerge on an old road bed (at 1.3 miles), the next trail junction. To the left the old road continues to Long Mountain where it once serviced the closed lookout tower, and you can see the Foothills Trail re-entering the forest on its way on to Table Rock and Jones Gap State Parks. Meanwhile Hidden Falls Trail takes a right and follows the roadbed for a short distance before veering back into the woods.


This section is my favorite, a lush carpet of ferns covering the forest floor and the sound of water trickling along in a creek that eventually spills over the falls. You’ll hear the stream paralleling the trail as you walk, and a short spur trial to the right just after the ferns leads to a curious waterslide; the water disappears into the ground at the base of a rock slab to continue a short distance underground.



The last stretch of Hidden Falls Trail is skirting the ridgeline to descend to the waterfall. You’ll reach the falls about 2.5 miles into your hike, making for a round-trip of just over 5 miles. It appears unexpectedly – hence the name “Hidden Falls” – and cascades 60 feet to continue on its way to Tamassee Creek and eventually Lake Keowee.


The trail ends at this point, although erosion bears witness to hikers continuing up closer to the falls. While tempting, be aware that multiple people have died here, just as at many waterfalls in the Upstate. The damage to sensitive plant communities should also be mentioned, and if that doesn’t keep you from pursuing that selfie, maybe the poison ivy will.

Striped wintergreen was flowering everywhere!

Retracing your steps to the parking lot remember to take it nice and slow – to better spot the ripe blueberries, of course. Upon reaching the trailhead drive back to the main parking area near the Park office, and head to the swimming area to rinse off. If you’re not completely done for the day you might consider a stop at Stumphouse Tunnel, Issaqueena Falls or Yellow Branch Falls. Another option is to head to Walhalla, Clemson or Pickens and choose one of the many restaurants to rest and refuel. Although it’s a long drive back to Greenville (about 1 hour, 20 minutes), the drive provides plenty of captivating scenery and time to start planning your 77-mile Foothills Trail hike…

Can you spot the cricket frog? 

***** 

You’ll find a topo map and detailed description of the hike in the book “50 Hikes in South Carolina” by Johnny Molloy. It also contains a description of the Tamassee Knob hike and multiple other Palmetto Trail and Foothills Trail options, and is a favorite resource of ours when planning new adventures.



Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Fields of Lavender in the Upstate

From the years we spent living in France, I can say it is a scene far more associated with Provence than the Upstate. However a local business has brought the south of France to South Carolina, and five years in has a booming business of lavender that is currently open to the public for you-pick, just 30 minutes from Greenville!


You might have met Southern Hills Lavender owners Tim and Mary Bergstrom at the Travelers Rest Farmers Market (we've got one of their plants growing in the garden!), or at one of the many speaking engagements they regularly attend. Their journey started in 2010 with a dream, and after several years of research and a move from Maryland back to South Carolina, Southern Hills Lavender was born in 2014. After planting one acre of lavender in 2015, they opened to the public in 2016 for their first you-pick. Imagine their surprise when instead of the expected 2,000 customers they attracted 8,000 visitors in a single day!


After that immensely successful first season, Southern Hills Lavender has continued to grow, building a small store that sells lavender products & hosts workshops, and beginning to propagate lavender in their greenhouse. Last year they opened their lavender fields to you-pick, classes and a Plein Air Day, and began to take bookings for photographers, groups, weddings, and events.


On this third year of you-pick, Southern Hills Lavender opened their farm in late May; the you-pick days will continue through June 16th. In addition to picking lavender visitors can shop for lavender products, picnic at one of the tables under the giant oaks, and learn about growing lavender on one of the tours. There is a special tent geared towards children with sensory play, including lavender scented rice and cloud dough. Make sure and try some lavender lemonade!


The farm is located in Greer, an easy but scenic 30 minute drive from Greenville. On our recent visit we arrived just after the farm opened at 9am, and were warmly greeted at the ticket tent. Tickets can be purchased beforehand, however walk-ups are welcome; the difference in the price of the ticket goes directly to Greer Relief. We picked up baskets and scissors along with picking instructions, and then were free to explore the fields.


Southern Hills has multiple kinds of lavender growing, different shades ranging from the palest pink so as to be almost white, to the deepest of purples. With almost a dozen cultivars we were able to find lavender stems in different stages of bloom with subtle differences in smell – although all were simply heavenly! Bundles start at $2 and you can choose how much you pick, or you can just relax and enjoy the feast for the senses…


A trip to Southern Hills Lavender is a great activity for the family. Admission for children under 7 is free, and my almost-4 year old was able to quickly get the hang of how to properly cut the lavender and enjoy himself tremendously. Older children might enjoy the touring talk (there’s one at 10am and one at 1pm), while younger children will have fun at the children’s tent. A morning spent on the farm is full of photo opportunities, and you’ll be overjoyed to take home a sweet-smelling souvenir of your visit that will continue to scent your home in the days to come.


For more on the lunch option, prices, tickets and types of lavender, please visit the Southern Hills Lavender website. You’ll want to follow their gorgeous Instagram feed, and stay tuned for the next Feast in the Field, a lavender-themed dinner with a local and seasonal menu, coming this fall!

The resident pair of nesting kildeer plover

*****


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