Area orchards battled extreme weather; harvest still fruitful

ADDISON COUNTY — The weather, as usual, wrote the complex story of this year’s apple season.
Take, for example, the beloved McIntosh, Vermont’s most popular variety, which accounts for roughly half the state’s annual production.
At a Cornwall orchard, this summer’s drought reduced the size and number of Macs (though not their quality), and a warm spell in September drastically reduced their picking season.
In Ferrisburgh, an early spring deep-freeze damaged the crop pre-blossom.
But a Monkton orchard produced some of the biggest and most beautiful Macs in memory.
That all goes to show that, although final numbers are not in, this past season’s apple harvest was fruitful in the Champlain Valley.
Five or six weeks of midsummer dry weather may have produced smaller and fewer apples, but quality-wise it was a bumper crop for Sunrise Orchard in Cornwall, which has 60,000 trees.
“The flavor of our apples this year is awesome,” said co-owner Chris Hodges. “But we did have a low crop overall.”
Sunrise picked about 95,000 bushels this year, she said, about 30 percent less than the usual 140,000.
To compound the problem, Sunrise’s Macs, strung along by a warm September, refused to ripen on schedule. When end-of-season weather arrived right on time, however, the orchard was left with just seven days to pick the apples.
“We had a full staff of pickers from Jamaica — 56 — but we still couldn’t pick them all in time,” she said. “We had a lot of drops.”
This isn’t the first time they’ve faced a short picking season, Hodges said.
BOB LAMOUREAUX MOVES crates of apples from Sunrise Orchards into Vermont Refrigerated Storage in Shoreham last week as the orchard readies some of its 2018 harvest for long-term storage.
Independent photo/John S. McCright
“I don’t know if it’s climate change or a weather trend or what, but this has been an issue for the last few years.”
Not to worry, she said. In spite of lower production this year, Sunrise has plenty of apples for its local accounts.
“We might not have enough apples to last until June, but we’ll certainly make it to April,” she said.
Sunrise maintains a storage facility in Shoreham, Vermont Refrigerated Storage, with a capacity of 225,000 bushels.
Along a dip in the landscape, where the Macs are planted at Ferrisburgh’s Woodman Hill Orchard, a cold snap was devastating last winter. In other places, however, the micro-orchard just outside Vergennes could barely keep up.
“The Empire and Honey Crisps were full crops,” said owner Rob Rogers. “Almost too heavy.”
Woodman Hill picked as many of those as it could, Rogers said, but he invited gleaners to come in and take the rest, so he could share the surplus with his neighbors.
Woodman Hill, which bills itself as “Vermont’s smallest orchard serving Vermont’s smallest city,” manages 300 trees on 2.4 acres. Customers can pick their own or buy apples pre-picked at the orchard’s farm stand. The orchard also sells culls to regional cider makers.
Rogers is still calculating the bushel numbers, but it’s definitely been a good year, he said, the Mac damage notwithstanding.
“We had a terrible year weather-wise for people getting out to the orchard,” said Genevieve Boyer of Boyer’s Orchard in Monkton, which sells primarily pick-your-own fruit.
This year Boyer’s picked about 4,200 bushels of apples, she said — a pretty good year.
In contrast to Sunrise Orchard, the Macs in Monkton dropped early because of the cold and rainy October weather.
“The people who came early got the McIntoshes,” Boyer said. “They were big and beautiful. I’ve never seen them that big.”
Her Empires dropped early, too.
“I turned a bushel of those into apple sauce,” she said happily. “Cinnamon, very little sugar — it got that wonderful pink color.”
In another part of her orchard, summer raspberries were destroyed by a heat wave this summer.
“We had that string of 90-degree days, which just fried them. I was able to harvest less than half the crop.”
Perhaps the biggest enemy at Boyer’s this year was the squirrels.
“They devastated my Seckel pears,” Boyer said. “It was heartbreaking. I usually get about $3.99 a pound for those.”
They also got into her corn.
Now that pick-your-own season is over, however, Boyer late last week said she is taking her revenge: She’s been prowling around the orchard picking off squirrels with her .22.
“I’ve gotten four grays and three reds so far,” she said with a laugh.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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