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FALL HARVEST

Sweet year for apples

LOCAL ORCHARDS: Good growing conditions  make for abundance of large, healthy fruit

  • Adrienne Colsia of Lyndeborough picks an apple in the orchard of Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough and demonstrates her apple cider press.
  • Adrienne Colsia of Lyndeborough picks an apple in the orchard of Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough and demonstrates her apple cider press.
  • Adrienne Colsia of Lyndeborough picks an apple in the orchard of Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough and demonstrates her apple cider press.
  • Adrienne Colsia of Lyndeborough picks a Macoun apple in the orchard of Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough.

The orchards in the area are winding up a successful season this month, as a slow spring and rainy summer provided an abundance of fall apples. Even though the season is coming to a close, there are still a few weekends left before the chance to pick your own apples ends for another year. And according to local growers, this year is the ideal season to go picking, with both the overall crop and individual apples coming in bigger than usual.

Last year, an early spring and an April frost caused a lot of apple growers in New Hampshire to lose a good deal of apple buds, resulting in a smaller-than-average crop in 2012. Some growers even had to end their season early due to the dearth of fruit, according to N.H. Fruit Growers Association President Giff Burnap in an interview Wednesday. The season usually lasts through Halloween, but last year there were orchards that were closing down after Columbus Day weekend. This year is a different story.

“In general, all varieties of apples have been great this year, at our farm and across the region,” said Burnap, who owns Butternut Farm in Farmington. “The spring weather did what it was supposed to do, progressing slowly and with adequate moisture. We had good bloom weather. The trees thinned well, which led to good size and quality of the fruit. We’ve had no significant hail and low insect pressure. Everything’s been ideal.”

For growers, the light crop last year meant that this year, there were lots of buds to produce new apples, leading to a surplus crop. It’s something of a double-edged sword for growers, he noted, because even though the fruit quality is better this year, the surplus crop has meant prices for pick-your-own, farmstand and farmers markets sellers has stayed about the same, and the price for wholesale apples has even gone down a little bit. But because the volume is higher, the season is longer, and farmers are moving more.

Also, those who are selling at their farms and outdoor markets have had ideal weather this fall, he noted, particularly on the weekends, when a lot of families go out seeking an afternoon picking their own apples.

Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Greenville didn’t feel so much of the pinch last year, said owner Claire Washburn in a phone interview Wednesday. The farm is at a higher elevation, so they didn’t get as hard hit by the frost and were able to finish out their regular season without too many ill effects, she said. They are still reaping the benefits of the good growing season, though, she said, with about 30 percent more apples than last year. The farm won’t be extending its season, however, she added, and will be closing after Halloween as usual.

Peg McLeod, owner of Norway Hill Orchard in Hancock, said she was in a similar boat as the Washburn’s. The frost last year did affect her crop, she said, but unlike many area farms, she lost only about 30 percent of her crop — at other farms, the number was closer to 80 percent. This year was much more in line with an average good year, she said. And the rain in June and July hit at just the right time to produce large fruit.

“Weather dominates everything,” she said. “If the rain had come just a little earlier or later, it wouldn’t have helped the crop.”

Apple picking at Norway Hill Orchard will last through this month, she added, and she will likely continue to sell her late apples, including Baldwins and Delicious apples, into November, depending on the weather. “We’ll keep going as long as Mother Nature lets us,” she said.

Wayne Colsia, who owns Paradise Farm in Lyndeborough with his wife Adrienne Colsia, said this year was a far more successful year for the farm’s apples. Unlike the Windy Hill Orchard, his crop was hit hard by the April frost last year, he said, and only about 25 percent of his crop came in. While apples are only a piece of the overall crop at Paradise Farm, which also produces pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and grapes, apples are the latest crop of the year. Also, he noted, apple picking is popular in the region, and is usually people’s first introduction to the farm.

“We use the orchard to attract customers to the rest of the farm,” he said. “It brings a lot of first-time customers. It serves as a gateway.”

Since the farm is only about six years old, it relies mostly on word-of-mouth to increase business, he said, so a bad apple year can hurt in more way than one.

This year, the apple business has been booming he said, with a lot of pickers coming to take advantage of the large fruit produced this year. He and Adrienne hand-thinned the trees, he said, and even though the couple uses about half the sprays of commercial operations, the crop came in large and beautiful, he said.

“We have some really nice looking fruit this year,” he said.

Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through the end of October, and has pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, as well as a corn maze, hayrides, gift shop and bakery. Paradise Farm is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment during the week or after Halloween.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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