D > Apple Season Early
Apple Season Early
It'll Be A Small, But Quality Crop
by Stefanie Miller
Early birds in the north country will get a fresh-off-the-tree apple this year. But while warm weather means an early harvest for many varieties, the number of apples will be considerably less than normal.
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Roger Clapp pointed out that there was a lot of wet weather while the trees were coming into flower. "Bees don't fly in that kind of weather so the number of apples forming was way down," he said. "Because you have fewer apples, you're going to have some larger apples."
Clapp estimated that Vermont apple growers will see about 80 percent of a normal yield. He added that the quality of the apples is apt to be very good.
Michael Phillips, a co-partner of the Lost Nation Cider Mill in Groveton - a certified organic apple operation - has a crop only 20 or 25 percent of its normal size.
"We had OK weather for pollination, but right after that it got rainy and wet," he said, causing the immature fruit to fall off the trees. "It's an off year."
But Phillips sees a silver lining to the clouds that thwarted his apple crop. "Next year the trees are going to be well-rested," he said, resulting in more energy and vitality in the buds. "We're likely to have a good crop."
Like Vermont growers, he also reports an earlier season on some varieties - including the Paula Reds, which will be ready this weekend. The later varieties, he said, will be ready closer to their usual time.
In early May, many orchardists found themselves worrying about late frost damage, as flowers appeared several days ahead of schedule. The frost didn't come, but the early flowering - due in part to the early spring influenced by the weather phenomenon known as El Nino - contributed to many popular varieties being ready to pick in August. Vermont's famous McIntosh variety, usually ready in mid- to late- September, will be ready in time for Labor Day.
The early arrival of the apple season is a mixed blessing.
"It's clearly a double-edged sword," said Clapp, noting that catching prospective apple eaters before they head back to college is one benefit.
But, he said, because of the warm weather, apples will tend to drop off the trees more quickly than the traditional, cooler harvest time. "That's a major drawback."
And, he said, "People don't think of this time of year as being one for apple harvest. You have to change behavior patterns."
Dick Fabrizio, owner of Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill, reported that many of his apple varieties are ready a week earlier than normal. "The real benefit is that the tourists are still around. There are many people out there to buy at this time of year. We do rely on tourists quite a bit."
Unlike most apple growers in the area, he reported a pretty normal season in terms of quantity. "They're going to be good-sized this year."
David Clark of Crow Hill Orchard could not be reached for comment. A couple of other apple growers in the Northeast Kingdom - Ken Parr of East Burke and Ed Crane of St. Johnsbury - also have less apples than usual.
"I didn't get a very good crop. Something affected it in the spring," said Parr.
Neither has a very big operation. "I'm just a diddler," said Crane, adding, "but people enjoy the different kinds."
Apple orchards are not an important part of the economy in the Northeast Kingdom, where the climate is severe. But statewide, the value of the fresh market crop is $12 to $15 million. Vermont has approximately 4,000 acres of apple orchards, normally producing between 900,000 and 1 million bushels of fruit.