Despite weather, apples ripe for picking

W hile heavy rain and flooding may have wreaked havoc on some crops, local apple growers seem to agree that the local harvest ofNew York’s most bountiful fruit was mostly spared and early season yields look encouraging.

“We had a tiny bit of damage, but we were blessed it was nothing of significance,” John Barber, owner of Apple Hill Orchard said. “We started picking last Friday (Sept. 9) and everything appears to be coming together well.”

In Granville, Susan Knapp who runs Hick’s Orchard along with her husband Dan Wilson reported very little damage from this fall’s wet weather as well.

“We aren’t near any rushing streams so the water didn’t hurt us. And we were very glad to not get any wind,” Knapp said. “If anything, the rain helped size them (the apples) up.”

A year after a late May frost wiped out some varieties of apples, many growers were worried that Tropical Storm Irene had the potential to deliver a similar blow, but most local growers appeared to emerge unscathed.

Barber said the biggest concern for him wasn’t rain but wind. However with the storms winds greatly diminished by the time they arrived in the region, it turned out not to be a factor.

In its wake, growers are cautiously optimistic that this year’s yield will be above average.

Barber walked through his 25 acre orchard on County Route 21 inWhitehallon Friday afternoon taking stock of this year’s crop, pointing toCortlandand Macintosh trees loaded with fruit.

Although he was hesitant to put an exact figure on this year’s crop he said it appears to be a better than normal year. 

“In terms of tonnage, it’s a little above average,” adding that during a normal year his yield is approximately anywhere from 16,000-17,000 bushel of apples.

He said a lack of water has obviously not been a problem this year, and with sunny weather and the return of cool nights, the fruit is coloring up nicely.

Hick’s appears to have an above average crop as well.

“It’s not the huge bumper crop we thought it might be, but it will be good. Overall there is a good amount of fruit,” Knapp said.

She said there are sections within the orchard where trees are bursting at the seams with fruit while the fruit in areas that experience greater picking pressure aren’t as bountiful.

“The people have been doing a great job picking the fruit clean,” she said, adding that the Empire and Macoun varieties fared particularly well and were producing a large amount of fruit.

Liberty, an organic variety also looks great.

“I never seen so many of them,” Knapp said.

And while the quantity of this year’s crop doesn’t appear to be lacking, the relative quality of this year’s fruit appears to be very good as well.

Knapp said a relatively warm and dry July boosted the sugar content of this year’s apples.

“There wasn’t a lot of rain in July so there’s lots of sweetness,” she said.

Barber expressed a similar sentiment saying the taste of this year’s fruit is very good.

Perhaps most importantly for the growers, the demand for apples doesn’t seem to have been affected by the economy.

Both orchards reported u-pick business had been good in the early stages of the season. And that business could be bolstered by the fact that other regions in the Northeast have suffered from wet conditions that have impacted the apple crop.

The Vermont Tree Fruit Grower’s Association has estimated this year’s harvest will be down about 600,000 bushels or 28 percent, mainly because of wet weather that prevented bees from pollinating blossoms this spring.

There’s also some concern that widespread damage to roadways will partially limit access to orchards.

The apple season in the area lasts through October with several varieties yet to ripen. However, Knapp said the peak of the season, when the picking is at its best and the number of varieties was most plentiful, was from mid.-Sept until mid.-Oct.

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