Local apple orchards report a smaller crop this year -- but a tasty one with enough fruit to go around until Columbus Day.
David Jurczak, owner of Lakeview Orchard in Lanes borough, and Charles Jaeschke, of Jaeschke’s Orchard in Adams, both say business is "very good," despite reduced crops and grim early-season projections from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to spring’s erratic weather.
Two weeks of 70 degree temperatures in March, particularly, had Jurczak "scared to death."
"Those two weeks in March, it was just like it [was Tuesday] -- 70 to 75 degrees -- and everything came out of dormancy. They woke right up and thought it was summertime," Jurczak said.
Early heat can cause problems by prompting trees to bud before the cold is gone. Below-freezing temperatures threaten buds and can wipe out crops. April brought just this, with several days dropping to 20 degrees. As a result, Jurczak lost 60 to 70 percent of this year’s apple crop, 90 percent of the peach crop and the entirety of 2012’s cherry and apricot crop.
Business persists though, Jurczak said, and cars arrived at the Old Cheshire Road orchard throughout Tuesday afternoon. A hefty Honeycrisp apple crop will carry Jurczak through the season, paired with healthy stores of Imperial Gala and Buckeye Gala.
"The ones that did survive taste very good," Jurczak said. "The fact that the trees are new helps.
Though the hot and dry summer stressed trees, Jurczak also attributed the sweet flavor of this year’s apples to the weather.
Jaeschke’s Orchard’s crop suffered less thanks to a later bloom in April. Still, Jaeschke said he shared Jurczak’s concern early in the season.
"Anybody that grows apples here experiences it. We always get cold weather around when the apples are blooming," Jaeschke said. "There’s a tingling in your stomach every year."
But as the North County apple growers continue into the autumn season, things are picking up.
"I lost some fruit on the lower branches in the lower sections of the orchard, but for the most part, it was very good," Jaeschke said. " ... We’re down probably 20 percent, but we’re picking strong right now and expect to wrap up a week earlier than normal, around Columbus Day."
According to the Massa chusetts Department of Agri cultural Resources, nearly half of growers market directly to buyers in the commonwealth by way of roadside stands, pick-your-own orchards and farmers markets. The state ranks 12th nationally in apple production, having a crop of 911,000 bushels in 2011. The USDA’s projection for the commonwealth in 2012 was 738,000 bushels, down 19 percent. One bushel of apples weighs roughly 42 pounds.
The commonwealth was not hit nearly as hard as New York and Michigan, who saw their respective annual crop shrink from 30 million bushels to 14 million, and 20 million bushels to 4 million this year, according to USDA.
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