Drastic improvement for apple orchards this year

B y Jaime Thomas

Dan Wilson is not downplaying that he’s pleased with his apple crop this year.

“If it sounds like I’m really happy, it’s because I am,” the owner of Hicks Orchard said Monday. After taking a big hit last fall due to irregular weather, Wilson is glad to be looking at a season that brings a high volume of high quality apples.

“It’s a big relief because we’re looking at a great crop this year,” he said.

“Last year we limped through with 40 percent of our crop,” he said, explaining that such an event can be almost cathartic for an orchard.

“Sometimes after trees have a light crop, they bounce back better the next year. There’s a lot of good, easy picking this year,” Wilson said. “We’re at about 120 percent this season.”

Last year’s poor season was largely due to an unseasonably warm stretch in March, which set the clocks for the trees to bloom.

“They were blooming the first week of April. The blossoms were in a vulnerable stage, and it became cold,” Wilson said. However, as the trees grew last summer they put in buds for the following year’s crop, “and we’re reaping the benefits of that this year.”

Wilson said this winter was more traditional, and the trees opened up at the normal time. Additionally, he said there was good pollination from the bees.

“We’re making lots of cider donuts, having a normal season. That’s pretty much the story at most orchards around here,” he said. The only exceptions are those that were hit by hail, which Hicks was fortunate enough to avoid.

The story is similar at Fairview Orchard in Hampton, where co-owner Don Rogers also saw drastic improvement from last year.

“It’s much better. Last year was devastating; we only had 20 percent,” Rogers said. This year, he said about 85 percent of his crop survived.

Right now, the orchards are in another stage where it’s weather dependent, but more for the sake of the crowds they hope to attract. Wilson said last weekend was good, with a healthy number of people coming to pick.

Though there have been frost warnings on a number of recent night’s, he said apple-growers aren’t worried.

“We had early frost, and some of our apples show that, but they’re still edible and still sellable. We’re just thankful we got what we got,” he said.

“Frost and fall-like weather at this point will help color the fruit up,” Wilson said. Besides the obvious, another perk of this season’s hearty crop will be prices reverting back to what they were about two years ago.

“Prices have dropped, and hopefully that’s an enticement,” he said.

And the prices aren’t the only factor that will rein apple-lovers in to the orchard. Along with cider doughnuts and the usual assortment of local goods, Hicks will be cooking up applewood-fired pizza on the weekends. Slyboro Ciderhouse will host a few weekend events as well, including the release of a new hard cider.

Though tarter varieties were more available several weeks ago, Rogers said he started picking the ever-popular Macintoshes on Saturday.

“The apples are smaller this year, and some fell off the tree early, but overall we’re doing well,” he said.

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