Between late frosts this spring and heavy rains and storms the last few weeks, it’s been a mixed bag for area apple growers.
Some growers who have seen a dent in their apple crops blame poor weather conditions early in the growing season. Others say they have early fall apples that are so thick and heavy on their trees that recent stormy weather has felled some fruit and forced picking.
Whether their crops are bountiful or a little more spare, apple growers across Rock and Walworth counties say the time is ripe for apples, with early fall varieties such as McIntosh, Holiday, Cortland and Zestar now eminently crisp and pickable.
Judy Jacobson, who owns Apple Barn Orchard and Winery in Elkhorn, reports a robust apple crop, with varieties such as McIntosh weighing down the branches so much that some are snapping off.
“It just happens,” she said.
Jacobson said heavy rains the last few weeks have caused some early varieties to actually split open—mature apples can hold only so much water—and winds from recent storms have blown some apples to the ground.
It might not be a major problem because Apple Barn has had a bumper crop so far. But the trees are so full that Jacobsen has had three pickers going into overdrive to get the apples before Mother Nature downs more of them.
One picker is filling multiple 18-bushel hoppers with apples—to the tune of about 1,180 bushels a day.
That’s a lot of apples.
“Yes, it is,” Jacobson said.
Right now, Cortland apples—a darker-red variety that’s a cousin of the McIntosh—are ripe. They’re a sweet apple good for cooking and eating, and this weekend will be their peak, Jacobson said.
For those who like tart fruit, Jacobsen said growers should have Holiday apples, a firm, red-yellow variety that adds tang to an apple pie or when dipped in caramel.
Drew Ten Eyck, owner-operator of Ten Eyck Orchard in Brodhead, said his apple crop should be “pretty good,” although some early fall varieties were hampered by a late frost and windstorm in April.
Ten Eyck said damaged blossoms often lead to damaged or stunted apples, although affected varieties might not show signs of distress until a few weeks before harvest.
“They can just stop growing at a certain point, or they can get some scabbing,” he said.
He said two early fall varieties—Arlets, a sweet dessert apple, and Jonamacs, a bright-red, honey-flavored hybrid—were affected by the early frost.
“Some of those we’ll sell as cooking apples or crush up for cider,” Ten Eyck said.
Later fall varieties such as Melrose, McCowan, Crimson Crisp and Evercrisp seem to have fared better because they bloomed after the April frost, he said.
The frost wasn’t as hard on Ten Eyck Orchard as a hailstorm in August 2017 that wreaked havoc on that year’s crop.
“It was BB-sized hail that came with 60-mph straight-line winds. Hail went through the leaves and shot into apples,” Ten Eyck said. “I’d say we’re in a lot better shape this year than last year.”
Lori Jenson, owner of Apple Hut in the town of Beloit, said some apple growers in northern Rock County dealt with single-day rainfalls of 5½ inches recently, while areas to the south and east of the town endured strong winds from storms. But those storms seemed to veer north and south of Apple Hut just as the McIntosh, Cortland and Gala apples were ripening.
“We had a little frost early on, but we had no damage from storms at all this year,” Jenson said. “We’re really fortunate. I’m thinking our crop this year is a normal crop, not too overbearing, not too few to worry whether you’re going to start running out of everything. It’s kind of a sweet spot.”
How does an orchard celebrate that?
“By asking you to come and get some of those apple doughnuts,” Jenson said. “They’re the specialty.”