Apple lovers can thank the dismal 2012 season for this year’s successful crop, according to area growers.
Dan Wilson, co-owner of Hicks Orchard in Granville, explained apple trees put out fruit-bearing buds for the following year’s growing season each summer. So in a year like 2012, when the region’s crop suffered losses of 60 percent or more due to late-spring frosts, the trees spend more energy in the summer putting out buds for the fall’s fruit.
“It’s probably a survival technique: I’m not sure,” Wilson said. “But it kind of predisposes the trees to a little heavier-than-normal crop (the year after a bad year).”
The apple harvest is about half over, and it seems unlikely local orchards will run out of fruit for U-pick customers or their own orchard stores anytime soon.
“There are a lot of apples, and they’re looking very nice,” said JoAnne Borden, of Borden’s Orchard in Easton. “Now we just have to find a market for them, because everybody’s going to have a lot of apples.”
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Borden’s doesn’t offer U-pick, so a bumper crop makes it tough to manage all the work, considering the farm’s primary business is dairy.
“Right now, for instance, everyone is putting in corn silage, which is ready at exactly the same time as McIntosh (apples) and some other varieties that are our biggest crops,” Borden said. “It’s a challenge to find the right way to split up the work force and make sure everything’s getting done.”
It’s a good problem to have, she added. Borden’s sells its apples to area
supermarkets and directly to local consumers.
The biggest challenge for this year’s crop came during the early summer, when frequent rains made it hard to control pests and fungus, she said.
“You had to keep really on top of it,” she said. “It wasn’t an easy year to grow them. I’m sure everybody had somewhat of a challenge to get out there (to manage pests and fungus) between the storms, but obviously it worked because we have a great crop.”
Nate Darrow, owner of Saratoga Apple in Schuylerville, said he is also seeing a strong crop, and he’s opening new orchards to U-pick customers for the first time this year as a result.
“We are progressively opening larger and larger areas,” he said. “Last weekend, we opened a new area with some empires and crispins for the first time, and this weekend, we’ll be extending that ... going further up into the crispin orchard.”
Orchards are opened to U-pick customers after Darrow’s commercial picking crews have gotten the amount of each variety needed to stock the store, he explained.
“The whole first half of this season, we’ve been putting truckloads of apples into controlled-atmosphere storage, and we’ll continue to do that until we have probably 250 or 300 bins full of apples,” Darrow said.
Saratoga Apple’s low-oxygen, climate-controlled storage system allows the business to offer apples for sale year-round, and they’re all sold directly to consumers.
Based on what he has seen so far, Darrow expects the picking season to last into November, and he’s sure he’ll be well-stocked through the colder months.
“We will be marketing this good crop right through the winter, the spring and next summer,” he said.
Wilson, at Hicks Orchard, plans to use momentum from this year’s harvest to add about 2,500 new apple trees to his orchards in the spring. He said the expansion plan was formed after some calculations on last year’s weak harvest, when he lost more than half his crop to late-spring frosts.
He determined the orchard can almost reach the break-even mark on about 40 percent of a normal harvest.
“So for the future, we’re planning on growing more apples than we need as kind of a survival strategy,” he said.
Hicks is also putting a renewed focus on Slyboro Cider House, which makes hard cider from apples grown in the orchard. Half the 2,500 trees being planted in the spring are varieties chosen for the fermentation process, Wilson said.
“We’re kind of heading in two different directions for our orchard — one area for growing just for the hard-cider business and the other to continue with our U-pick and retail sales,” he said.