Fall harvest follows challenging wet summer for local farmers

  • Pumpkins and gourds at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Pumpkins and gourds at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Pumpkins and gourds at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Pumpkins and gourds at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Pumpkins and gourds at Tenney Farm in Antrim. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/20/2021 2:39:07 PM

Fall in New Hampshire is synonymous with juicy red apples and bright orange pumpkins, and for those who wait all year for autumn’s harvest, look no further than local farms scattered across the region.

It has been a challenging year for many farmers given the excess amount of rain that fell from the skies during the months of July and August. But now that the calendar has switched to September, it’s harvest time.

Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Greenville is experiencing a rebound year after the devastating effects of a contagious disease known as fire blight greatly affected its apple crop last year, along with 2020’s extreme drought conditions.

Owner Tim Anderson said the orchard opened Labor Day weekend with McIntosh ready for picking, while the Cortlands are still beginning to ripen. As the season goes on, Washburn’s will also have Red Delicious and Macouns.

“The apples are a little bigger because of all the rain,” Anderson said. “They sized up a lot better because we had all that rain in July and August. They’re noticeably larger.”

Anderson said the orchard has a good amount of apples this year and not all of them are big. “There’s still a lot of variety in terms of size,” he said. “But the larger fruit are more plentiful this year.”

While the rain helped the apples size up, it wasn’t good for the hayfields and the typical work to maintain the orchard, calling all the rain “a bit much.” Anderson said he’d prefer it rained a reasonable amount once or twice a week, but despite the heavy downpours it didn’t make too much of a difference.

The fire blight last year affected most of the Cortland crop and half the McIntosh. Anderson said its impact was felt state wide saying “it was some of the worst fire blight in the state as whole.” He worried it would have a lasting effect on the trees, but thankfully it didn’t. Anderson said it happens every year, but it wasn’t too bad this season. 

“And we were much better prepared for it after last year,” he said.

Washburn’s also grows pumpkins, which the rain didn’t affect one way or the other. The pumpkins are just starting to ripen, Anderson said, and soon the hayfield will be filled with orange gourds for sale.

Anderson said two years ago they planted more Macoun trees, as well as Gala and other apple varieties, but it will be another three years before those trees bear fruit.

Washburn’s is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the end of October.

For Crista Salamy, who owns Tenney Farm in Antrim, this growing season is one she’d like to simply forget.

“Overall, just extremely bad,” Salamy said. “And it’s not just us, but overall most of the farms have done really bad.”

When it comes to the fall harvest, Tenney Farm is a sought-after place for pumpkins and gourds. Year after year, Tenney has bins and bins of pumpkins, upwards of 50 in a typical year. In 2021, Salamy said they only got eight bins of their own pumpkins and have been forced to bring in reserves from other farms “just so we have enough.” Salamy said they usually wholesale a portion of their pumpkin crop, but this year “not a one,” she said.

The drastic decrease in production is due to the heavy rain that took over the middle of the growing season. Salamy said that some of the pumpkins were ruined after being underwater thanks to flooding from the Contoocook River, and others simply rotted after sitting in soggy soil for so long.

As for the gourds, the same reasons led to a typical yield of 25 to 30 bushels to drop down to just three. Winter squash – acorn, butternut and buttercup – typically equate to 200 bushels. This year though, it resulted in just 27.

Being in the flood plain is both a blessing and a curse. Last year during the historic drought, Salamy said they could pull from the Contoocook to irrigate and it was a record year. But in 2021, all the rain and ensuing flooding made it a season that is way down in revenue.

“You can put water on it, but you can’t take it off,” Salamy said. The corn crop also took a big hit as the flooding washed out some areas and flattened others. One area in North Bennington high on a knoll was sparred and was going great. Then the bears and raccoons got to it.

“They wiped out a huge area that was beautiful, perfect corn,” Salamy said.

Birchwood Orchard in Mason opened Sept. 8 and so far the season is looking promising.

Sally McAllister, who helps her sister Mary Pierce run her orchard, said thus far there have been “a lot of satisfied customers.”

With 15 varieties of apples, Birchwood will remain open through the end of October and McAllister said there will be plenty to last throughout the season. The rain over the summer helped fatten up some of the apples, but McAllister said there are all different sizes to pick depending on what customers are looking for.

Birchwood also grows peaches and September is the prime picking month. 

“We’ve really had a good season,” McAllister said. “The ones they’re getting down there are just beautiful.”

The pears, which will be ready to pick in October, didn’t get as big as year’s past due to the rain, but McAllister said the yield has been on par with previous seasons.

Overall, Birchwood is looking at a solid year overall and much better than 2020.

“Last year, we didn’t have a good year. We needed rain,” McAllister said. “But not as much as we got this year.” They also have plums and pluots available.

Birchwood Orchard is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but will close when it rains.

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