Local apple growers expect excellent season
FINGER LAKES--Some of the area's great harvests grow on trees. Local apple producers confirm New York Apple Country's predictions of a good harvest--though most indicate they'll disprove the statewide trend of a smaller-than-average crop with a better harvest than last year's.
Whether customers visit a u-pick operation to choose their own apples straight from the tree or visit a farmstand for apples already picked, it isn't hard to find locally raised apples. This fruit-growing region is famous for more than its wine grapes. And they're not solely for eating fresh and crafting into sauce and pies--it should also be mentioned apples are also used in the Finger Lakes for making apple wine and hard cider by several area wineries and cideries.
"This is a very good year," says Jeff Morris, owner of Glenora Farms Orchards and Vineyards (Dundee-Glenora Road, Dundee). "We have great size because of the rain we had earlier in the season, and then getting the heat and sun we've had of late has been helpful in producing good color and good flavor."
The harvest on his farm began in mid-August with Jersey Macs, and Morris expects the apple season to last into the first week of November, as the different varieties of apples in his orchard reach maturity. "And it's not unusual to be finishing up Fujis even later," he commented. "Apples can take frost, just not a hard freeze," he says. "Their sugar is antifreeze that keeps them from getting damaged, but a hard freeze is an issue."
Like many apple growers, he finds the Honeycrisp variety, developed in Minnesota and introduced in the early 1990s, to be one of the most prized varieties. Morris also presses cider for several commercial cideries and wineries.
Craig Wager, owner of Wager's Cider Mill, (Main Street, Penn Yan) like Morris, raises apples and also presses them into cider for sweet cider, commercial hard cider and apple wine production.
He says this growing season held a few surprises. "We had a rough spring, it was really cold during pollination," he says. Expecting a lighter crop than the trees actually held onto, he needed to thin twice. "The hot weather takes the color out of apples, so a lot that are ripe look green," Wager said. "We've been hand-picking fresh fruit because we're afraid if we wait for color they'll fall off on the ground. The flavor is fine, the sunshine helped with the flavor. But the ones that stayed red look a little strange. Hopefully the cool nights will help them out." Another surprise--a lot of his apples are virtually seedless.
Wager grows about 22 varieties of trees, including some new varieties he's tried. "I like the idea of it," he says. Autumn Crisp, a relatively new variety introduced in 2009, is his new favorite, though he has high hopes of a newly introduced late apple, EverCrisp.
For Roxanne Wager of the Apple Barrel Store (Sand Hill Road, Penn Yan), the harvest season has only just begun. "The vineyards are having an average year but as for apples--we're having a hard time guesstimating," she says. "I can tell you in two weeks. Last year was a wonderful year, I think it's our location, we fared quite well. We were not affected by the freeze in the spring like a lot of places."
Wager says she eats a different variety of apple each day, though her favorite, in season is Jonagold. Their picking begins with MacIntosh. "They're tart, crunchy and juicy, like they should be," she says.
Many apples grown here travel a lot farther than local markets. Roxanne Wager's apples are shipped to 46 states; Morris supplies many farmstands. Like the area's wine products, they reach across the country. And area apple farmers echo the old New York State apple motto--"Nature has been very good to us."
"This is a perfect year," says Rick Reisinger, owner/orchardist at Reisinger's Apple Country (Apple Lane, Watkins Glen). "We have a full crop and everything looks good. We're happy with it. It couldn't be any better - for us it will be our largest crop ever."
Reisinger admits the past winter and spring's weather gave him more than a little concern. "We were wondering about it, but it worked out as we thought it would. Two feet of snow cover made all the difference. The year before the cold with very little snow cover damaged a lot of trees, but this year, with the snow cover we had no damage. Then, it was very challenging getting into the orchard with so much rain. We were concerned with the fruit set because we had the quickest flowering we've ever seen. We went from early stages of flowering to petal fall in a couple of days and we weren't sure we had enough time to get the pollination done. Usually it takes about three weeks to know what's going on."
Fortunately, despite the challenges, the apple trees went to work and his 20 varieties of apples are ripening in stages right on schedule. Reisinger's personal favorite, Honeycrisp, are about to come into season - about 1/3 of his plantings are this extremely popular apple. He expects the U-pick opportunities to continue through Halloween, and adds that with the right cold storage, apples last well beyond their time on the trees. "We finished the last of ours in late May this year," he says.
"Compared to last year, the season is great!" says Phil Davis, of Davis Farms (Peach Orchard Point, Hector). "Last year I basically had no apples. Late spring frosts zapped everything. I got about four bushels off the entire orchard - that was the whole crop last year. This year there was modest bud-kill, not too bad and obviously nothing like the year before. Generally speaking, I think area-wide the apple crop is large this year." Davis grows three varieties of apples - MacIntosh, Jonagold and Cortland - and expects to open the orchard for picking later this week.
The "Johnny Appleseed" at Johnny Appleseed's Orchard (DeMunn Road, Beaver Dams) is John Crance, owner/orchardist who began his young orchard about seven years ago. "I've been putting some in every year," he says. "This year is a lot, lot better than last. The crop is a lot larger. Last year's crop was really ad because of a heavy frost. That was very tough on me and it couldn't get any worse than last year. This year is looking very good. I also put in an irrigation system. That was like going from middle school to high school." As Crance talked, he was waiting for his apples to be pressed at a mill in Sayre, Pennsylvania. The mill where this was happening was also processing the cider for him. "Their pasteurization makes life easier," he said.
Crance grows at least 10 different varieties of apples and has found Honeycrisp to be the most popular. "I like the Empire and the Liberty apples too," he says. "It's kind of like ice cream. I like all those flavors."
For orchardist/ owner Greg Hoffmire of Hoffmire Farms (Route 227 Trumansburg). "Last year was good. I guess because of our location. Last year a lot of people had zero crops but we were blessed. This year is the same. This last winter was the toughest winter I can ever remember, but the snow recharged the water table. With that and all the rain, the size of apples is larger." Hoffmire says he likes all the apples he grows, though he will admit to a personal preference for Macoun. "That's like asking about a favorite child," he objected.
His son Scott Hoffmire gestures to the loaded trees in their orchard. "Look at that," he says. "We're not going to run out any time soon."