Southern Wisconsin apples ripening early

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Monday, August 23, 2010
— It started as a “slow, steady march” that turned into a race.

And now …

Surprise! The apples are ready!

Apples in southern Wisconsin are ready for harvest early this season. Most producers are finding their apples are ready between one week and two weeks early, said Walworth County producer Steve Jacobson. He and his wife, Judy, own Apple Barn, an orchard and winery at W6384 Sugar Creek Road west of the city of Elkhorn.

The race started this winter with mild weather and plenty of moisture, Jacobson said. It continued with a mild, early spring.

“It was just a really easy spring on any perennial,” Jacobson said. “The trees just got a fast start. If they get an early start, they’re going to finish early.”

“Early” is a subjective term, said Brodhead apple producer Rob Ten Eyck. When it comes to farming, it’s hard to know what’s normal, he said.

“Well, it’s just the ordinary variability,” Ten Eyck said about this year’s crop. “We’re probably a week to 10 days ahead of whatever’s considered normal.”

Ten Eyck Orchard has been at W962 Hwy 11 west of Brodhead since 1839. Ten Eyck grows more than fifty varieties of apples for retail sales. Some varieties ripen as early as July and already are sold out, he said. The varieties are ripening in the usual order, but all of them are a little earlier than normal, Ten Eyck said.

Ten Eyck Orchard also sells honey, squash, pumpkins, cheese and doughnuts.

The Jacobsons also sell baked goods and honey, as well as fruit wine from their farm. They have the usual selection of squash and pumpkins, Jacobson said.

Speaking of pumpkins, it’s going to be a hit-or-miss year for jack o’lanterns, Jacobson said. Lots of rain could make for larger than normal pumpkins, he said.

But many of the plants are suffering from leaf blight, and the heat and moisture have made it a good summer for bugs, he said.

You just never know what the year will bring, Jacobson said.

“You think you get it all figured one year,” he said. “You do the same thing next year, you’ll get it all wrong.”

After last year’s huge apple harvest, many producers worried this year’s crop would be light, Jacobson said. Sometimes trees will “have a year off” and produce less than normal, he said.

He has seen trees with 30 to 50 percent fewer apples. But the wet growing season has made up for it by producing big apples, he said.

“If this had been a dry summer, the yield would have been considerably less,” Jacobson said.

The early season will not hurt fruit quality, Jacobson said.

“I think people will find the size is going to be really good this year and good color,” he said. “I’ve talked to growers in Rock County, Dane County and over in the western part of state. All the growers like the way their apples look this year.”

One drawback of an early harvest is the cost of running coolers to store apples, Jacobson said.

But don’t worry that the apples won’t be fresh, he said. If apples are picked correctly, they can be stored for at least six weeks with no decline in quality, Jacobson said. Varieties that ripen late in the season can easily be stored for three months, he said.

The hard part is losing the last two weeks of summer that many apple growers use to get ready for the selling rush, Judy Jacobson said.

“You realize you only have a couple weeks left, and then all of a sudden now you’ve got to be ready and notifying everybody, updating your website,” Judy said. “It’s a scramble to get it all done.”

The apple season is a quick one. Even with two extra weeks, it’s hard to extend it, Ten Eyck said. Shoppers don’t think about apples when it’s hot and humid outside, he said. But come mid-September, it’s like flipping a switch.

On. Then quickly off.

“It’s very predictable,” Ten Eyck said. “We do a big chunk of our sales in the last two weekends in September and the first two weekends in October. Even if it’s a beautiful weekend at the end of October, your business will be half of what it was.

“They’ve gone into the next mode.”

Last updated: 2:39 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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