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September 10. 2012 10:39PM

Time is running short for an unusually early NH apple crop


Kelley Hicks of Sunnycrest Farm in Londonderry puts a shine on some apples. Because of the early spring weather, this year's crop was ready early, was smaller than usual and will be gone early as well. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)


The pick-your-own apple season has started early this year, and before long it could be over. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

Apple-picking season has come early to New Hampshire this year, and if folks don't get to the orchards soon, they might miss their chance.

But before heading out, people are being advised to call their favorite growers first to make sure the orchards are open for picking.

Spring came two weeks early this year, with warm temperatures forcing buds on the state's fruit trees to bloom ahead of schedule. As a result, harvest has come early too, according to George Hamilton, an expert on fruit trees from the UNH Cooperative Extension in Hillsborough County.

“We have a nice crop out there of beautiful apples, but they're about two weeks early,” said Hamilton. “People are already picking Macs, and Cortlands should be ready next week in southern New Hampshire.”

Some bare trees



But Hamilton warned that folks should check with their favorite local orchards before heading out because some orchards, depending on their elevation and their location, didn't make it through the weird spring weather.

There won't be any apple picking this year at Birchwood Orchard in Mason, because Larry Pierce's crop was destroyed by the dramatic temperature shifts.

“In March, it got very warm and the trees started to bloom,” said Pierce, “but then the temperature dropped and all those buds froze.”

Pierce said he knew early on that he had lost his crop. Walking through the orchard now and seeing very few apples hanging on the trees is a disappointment.

“All I can do is hope that next year is better,” said Pierce. “That's all a farmer can ever do.”

Way up north in Groveton, the Lost Nation Orchard's website related a similar story and said that “there is no apple crop to speak of for fall 2012.”

In Wolfeboro, Dennis DeVylder said his crop is really light so he's had to scramble to try to meet the needs of his customers.

“We're leaving the apples on the trees because we have a very strong pick-your-own business,” he said, “and we're bringing in apples from Lull Farm in Hollis to stock our farm stand.”

Leaving the apples on the trees for the public is important, said DeVylder, because his customers look forward to visiting the orchard every year, picking apples, going on hay rides, and making their own cider. Without the apple-picking component, the season loses some of its appeal.

Early start, early finish



In North Haverhill at Windy Ridge Orchard, apple picking started last weekend, said owner Ann Fabrizio.

“We feel very fortunate,” she said. “We've got a good crop — not an excellent crop — but a good one.”

And in Londonderry, at Sunnycrest Farm, Dan Hicks, Jr. said he is already three weeks into the pick-your-own season.

“I'm going to guess we're about 10 to 14 days early,” he said, “but we have a good crop.”

His peach trees, however, have already finished bearing fruit, which came as a surprise.

“I usually have peaches through September, but they're done already,” he said. “It's unreal. The season started early and it's ending early.”

If people don't realize the orchards are ripe for picking, he said, they could miss out on the season completely.

“I grew up on this farm and I always knew that you waited until you were wearing jeans and a sweater and the weather was cooler before you went apple picking,” he said. “People aren't used to going out into the orchard when it's 80 degrees out.”

Higher prices



Importing apples from other regions is extremely costly this year.

“I'm paying twice what I paid for cider apples last year,” said DeVylder.

Part of that price increase, said Hamilton, stems from the fact that the Midwest and New York state got nailed by hailstorms and rough weather throughout the spring and summer, further limiting supplies and driving up prices.

“The apples that survived are not pretty, perfect fruit,” said Hamilton. “People are going to have to shop with their taste buds and not their eyes this year.”

The best defense against the high prices, Hamilton said, is buying local fresh produce that doesn't have to be shipped in.

“What we need for a good pick-your-own season is sunny weekends so that people can come out and have a good time,” said DeVylder.

“Cooler weather would be nice because it really brings out the color of the apples,” said Hicks. “What we don't want to see is a tropical storm coming through and knocking the apple trees around.”

nfoster@newstote.com


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