Don’t be surprised if those plump and full bodied apples you saw hanging in local apple orchards last fall in aren’t the same ones ready for picking this year.
The hot and dry summer has caused farmers all over the region to worry about crop production this year and count apple producers among them.
With very little in the form of precipitation, orchards are not bearing the same plentiful fruit they were just a year ago as this year’s batch are noticeably smaller in stature.
There’s still time to change that for the later season varieties with some much needed rain, but as things currently stand the apple season is going to just be one of those years for those in the farming industry.
“The drought is definitely taking it’s toll on everything we’re growing,” said Wayne Colsia, owner of Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough. “It’s hitting every farmer in the area.”
For Colsia, not only has the dry months of the summer led to a smaller sized fruit, but the cold and wet spring, and late season snow on Mother’s Day at the farm is what he attributes to the destruction of about two-thirds of his blossoms. At 1,000 feet in elevation, Colsia said his farm faces different weather than properties just down the road. But for Colsia, it isn’t just the apple production that has suffered.
“Same is true for our peaches,” he said.
Tim Anderson, owner of Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Greenville, said the apple harvest has turned out pretty much what he expected it to be after watching so many days over the last few months pass by with no rain.
“Our crop is okay,” Anderson said. “Most of the crops are in pretty good shape. They just don’t really size up when you don’t get a lot of water.”
Mary Pierce, owner of Birchwood Orchard in Mason, also reported a smaller fruit size for her farm’s apples this year.
“I have a good crop, but they’re not as big,” she said. “The yield will be smaller because the apples are smaller, but I have enough for pick-your-own.”
And it could have an effect on the apple picking season’s length.
“We had one other year where it was very, very dry and we had really small apples and we had to cut our season short,” Pierce said.
One variety that isn’t doing well for Anderson is the Cortlands, which were hit by fire blight that “really stressed out the trees,” Anderson said. Fortunately the Cortlands were the only variety out of Washburn’s four to get the disease.
In terms of apples, Colsia said they have enough to bring to the Milford Farmers’ Market and some for pick-your-own, although they are not open like they have been in years past for people to wander through the orchard.
“Not as much as normal, but there’s some,” Colsia said. With no irrigation, Cosia said “we totally depend on Mother Nature.”
Anderson said they will be fine for the pick-your-own season as there are plenty of apples available, but there will certainly be a drop in profits. When selling apples by the bushel and peck, having smaller sizes means more apples in each bag. He just hopes to get the same boost that other area farms have received since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as people look to source their food locally. Pierce, on the other hand, has already seen a boost.
“It seems to be that people are excited about coming this year, getting out of the house,” she said. “And the orchard is a great place to go.”
Colsia said that about 65 percent of the farm’s crop is Macoun’s, which he said will be ready in the coming week, while others like Honeycrisp, Cortland and Golden Delicious will be ready as the season moves through September and into October.
Anderson said they have about eight acres of trees, consisting of McIntosh, Red Delicious, Macoun and Cortlands. But in an effort to provide more varieties, Anderson said they planted four additional apple strands that will hopefully be ready in a few years.
“It would be nice to have dozens of varieties, but we’re a more small, family-oriented operation,” he said.
Pierce has a lot of varieties on her five and a half acres, including some of the traditional ones like McIntosh, Cortland and Macoun, but others like Freedom, Fuji and Red Rome that aren’t as widely grown.
“They all ripen at different times,” Pierce said. “A lot of them will be ready end of September, beginning of October.”
Things will look a little different around Washburn’s with protocols in place, like masks required in the farmstand, which is why Anderson opened a little early this year to make sure employees were up to date with safety protocols,
“Just keeping our staff and customers safety a priority,” Anderson said.
They will still make apple cider doughnuts on the weekends, upgrading their doughnut robot that can double the output. There are more goals that Anderson would like to achieve that will expand and grow the operation, but it all takes time. The farmstand will be filled with picked apples, apple crisp, cookies and muffins, as well as cider made with Washburn’s crop. The corn maze is open, but one thing that is still being figured out is the hayrides.
“Social distancing hayrides don’t work out that great,” he said.
Pierce said she won’t be doing baked goods this year in an effort to avoid added chances for COVID-19 exposure.
For Colsia, it’s hard to get upset at a crop production that doesn’t meet expectations. After all, at least his property isn’t being threatened by wildfires like farms out west.
“You know there’s always next year,” Colsia said. “If you aren’t an eternal optimist, you shouldn’t ever be a farmer.”