Boom harvest for Connecticut apple orchards - Ct Post

Oh, Eve.

If only you were in Connecticut this fall, think of the opportunities for temptation.

Apples are everywhere.

After a generally terrible 2012 season, the crop this year is pushing into bumper status. The Honeycrisp are crisp, the Delicious are delicious. The branches are bending with the weight of the fruit.

"It's one of our best years ever," said Irv Silverman, of Silverman Farm in Easton.

"It's great," said Howard Bronson, of Maple Bank Farm in Roxbury. "It's one of the biggest we've had in terms of quantity, and the quality is very good."

Just across the state line in Brewster, N.Y., it's the same happy story.

"It's been one of the best years I can remember, and I've been in this business for 40 years," said Bruce Salinger, of Salinger's Orchard in Brewster, one of the largest orchard operations in the area.

That's the message the Connecticut Department of Agriculture has been getting from orchard owners across the state.

Department spokesman George Krivda said that, ordinarily, there are sections in the state where the weather turns against fruit growers.

"We haven't heard one instance of that this year," Krivda said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that the apple crop in Connecticut increased from 464,000 bushels in 2008 to 548,000 bushels in 2010.

But in 2012, that dropped to 393,000 bushels, the lowest total in years.

That was the result of a very early, very warm spring in 2012, with temperatures reaching the 80s in March. Trees responded by blossoming two or three weeks earlier than normal.

Then, in April, there was a hard frost. That's not unusual for April in Connecticut. But it ended up freezing and killing the too-early blossoms.

One of the worst-hit orchards in the state was Blue Jay Orchard in Bethel, which pretty much lost its entire crop of fruit and canceled its pick-your-won operations last year.

"We were going to come here last year," said Brigitte Robert, of Southbury, who was at Blue Jay recently with her husband, Jake Dombkowski, and their 2-year old son, Luke. "We couldn't, because of the frost."

This year, orchard manager Chris Seifrit said, things are greatly improved,

They're not perfect. Frost thinned the crop on some trees, and a June hailstorm damaged some of its Macoun and Mutsu apples. The hail dented the fruit and made it unfit for sale, Seifrit said.

"It just didn't meet our standards," he said. Those apples will go into cider, he said.

But this year, most of the trees at Blue Jay are thriving, their branches heavy with fruit. Seifrit said the orchard has been able to pick some early varieties, like McIntosh, and save them up. When people go out to pick their own, they'll find crates of those early varieties available for their bags.

"People come to the orchard at the end of September looking for McIntosh, which are early September apples," he said. "We'll have them."

There are a few reasons for the excellent harvest this year. It was a relatively dry, warm spring, so that when the blossoms were ready to pollinate, no heavy rains intruded.

But Salinger -- who lost about 25 percent of his crop to frost in 2012 -- said that when fruit-bearing trees don't produce their usual crop, they put their energy into producing more growth, more blossoms for the following year.

That extra energy and the dry spring worked in tandem, he said.

"It was the perfect non-storm," he said.

At Averill Farm in Washington, Susan Averill said the farm lost about 30 percent of its crop in 2012. It had apples in season, but closed early.

This year, she said, that won't be the problem.

"We only had a minor hail storm this year. It's a good year, quantity wise. But the quality is good, too."

Irv Silverman in Easton said in 2012 he lost 80 percent to 90 percent of his peach crop and half his apple crop to the frost. So this bountiful year is a lifesaver.

"Two years in a row like last year would have put some people out of business," he said.

Krivda said the good crop of apples was welcome in a year where some other Connecticut-grown things didn't grow so well. Too much rain in June, he said, either stalled or ruined a lot of the state's tomato and other vegetable crops. The rainy weather also made some plant diseases thrive.

"We had everything but locusts," he said.

But apples have not only survived those adversities. They've thrived.

"It's been an excellent year," Krivda said.; 203-731-3345

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