Apples survive rainy start to the season

ACCORDING TO THE Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, Vermont produces around 1 million bushels (40,000 pounds) of apples each year. Statewide, pick-your-own orchards sell about 200,000 bushels and grocery stores sell another 300,000. Of the more than 150 varieties grown in Vermont, the McIntosh is the most important, accounting for about half of the state’s entire crop. These apples grew in Addison County this year.

The rain meant that many trees were just plain stressed out due to over-saturated soils, which can reduce a tree’s ability to draw up nutrients from the soil, and can eventually rot root systems.
— Orchard Manager Blake Harrison, Kent Ridge Orchards

ADDISON COUNTY — Kent Ridge Orchards in Cornwall did not have its best apple season this year, but it could have been worse.
“We had an odd bloom pattern this spring,” said orchard manager Blake Harrison in an email to the Independent. “The orchard is located across an east-facing ridge, and I saw a distinct stripe running from north to south across the ridge, where the (McIntosh) trees had a really low bloom count.”
Roughly eight trees out of each row at a particular elevation had a poor bloom, he explained.
“Whether that was due to the drought and heat of the summer of 2018 or some micro-elevation temperature event during the winter, or something in the sub-surface at that elevation, I can’t say, but it meant that a key portion of our larger, older Macs had very few apples on them this year.”
That phenomenon alone probably accounted for about 1,000 fewer bushels harvested this year, he said.
Kent Ridge, which practices integrated pest management and produces organic and other apples exclusively for the cider market, has about 3,000 apple trees on 30 acres. It typically harvests about 10,000 bushels a year, but in 2019 that number will end up being closer to 8,000.
“This was a really hard year for us, weather-wise,” said Harrison. “When you get the amount of rain we had this spring and summer it just makes everything harder.”
Excessive rain makes spraying a challenge, he explained, which puts certain crops at risk for fungal disease or pest damage, and affects the long-term health of the trees.
“The rain also meant that many trees were just plain stressed out due to over-saturated soils, which can reduce a tree’s ability to draw up nutrients from the soil, and can eventually rot root systems,” Harrison said.
Saturated soils may have contributed to a dramatic pre-harvest drop of McIntosh apples at Kent Ridge, and to early ripening elsewhere in the orchard, but Harrison had suspected this might happen.
“Thankfully (I) was able to get our pickers to come a bit earlier than normal, so we salvaged some of the crop we otherwise would have lost to drops.”
Kent Ridge employed three migrant pickers this year, which is typical.

Up in Monkton, Boyer’s Orchard had “perfect weather” this year, Genevieve Boyer told the Independent, but the total harvest may end up being slightly down for 2019.
Twelve of Boyer’s 32 acres are dedicated to apples and they employ two migrant pickers. The orchard sells most of these through pick-your-own and the remainder through their farm stand.
Their main varieties include Honey Crisp, Russet, Strawberry Delicious and Fuji.
“We’re also growing Blondees, which are an up-and-coming golden,” Boyer said. “They’re sweeter than Golden Delicious. Those have been very popular — we’re just about wiped out of them.”
A newer section, which Boyer’s planted roughly a decade ago, came into its own this year.
“Our new section of Honey Crisps produced like crazy,” Boyer said. “I was really surprised at how many we got.”
The orchard planned to wrap up its season on Nov. 1. The overall harvest may end up slightly below average — Boyer expects it will end up at 4,000 or 4,100 bushels — but she’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from her customers, which makes her happy.
“I really enjoy our customers.”

Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, one of Vermont’s oldest continuously operating orchards, expanded its operations this year.
In 2019 they managed around 300 acres of tree fruit, a 50-acre increase over last year, Bill Suhr told the Independent in an email. They also planted five replacement acres in their pick-your-own orchard.
Getting an exact tree count is difficult, Suhr explained, because they currently plant about 2,000 trees per acre, but some of their older plantings contain only 180 trees per acre.
They employed 37 seasonal migrant pickers this year, about the same as last year.
The 2019 harvest has met expectations, he said. So far Champlain has harvested about 125,000 bushels of apples, up from 100,000 last year — because of the additional acreage.
“(We are) very grateful so far with robust local sales and consumer support,” Suhr said. The trees were also “very happy with the frequent rain, spring through fall, with only short dry spells in the summer — unlike the severe drought (we had) in 2018.”
McIntosh is still their most popular variety, Suhr said, but the Honey Crisp is also quite popular.
“We are (also) beginning to be known for Keepsake (apples),” he added.
As the season winds down, Champlain is looking ahead.
“We are just beginning to launch our new rebrand(ing) work, where we are combining our orchard and cidery logo (and) refreshing our packaging. Stay tuned.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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