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September 14, 2013

Area apple orchards bounce back

Bumper crop comes after frosty 2012

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — If you’ve been waiting for the sweet, tart and juicy taste of New York’s top variety of apple, the McIntosh, your time has arrived. And unlike last year, when spring frosts ruined much of the crop, apple growers and suppliers in the area said Friday that 2013 looks like a bountiful year for all apple varieties.

Local lovers of HoneyCrisps, and Zestars, other popular varieties out now, will also have little trouble funding quality fruit, area business owners said.

Willy Bruneau, owner of Middlefield Orchard, said the season was a little early this year, with harvesting beginning about Aug. 1. The weather has been favorable with a relatively mild spring and good moisture.

“We’re harvesting a lot of apples” at his pick-your-own operation, he said.

The HoneyCrisp is coming in now, which Bruneau said is always a popular variety. It’s crunchy and has a good balance between sweet and tart, he said. The orchard has about 30 varieties, including Pristine, and Zestar, another popular apple in the early season.

Last year, the business only sold 1,400 bushels of apples, which made for a bad year, Bruneau said. This year he hopes to sell thousands, he said, because he has to make enough money from the short harvest season to make it through the rest of the year.

Starting on Saturday, the orchard has added a press for families to use throughout the season make their own apple cider. It maintains the family-friendly nature of the business, he said.

According to a press release from the New York Apple Association, the apple season is officially underway throughout the state. Its nearly 700 growers expect to pick 32 million bushels by the time the harvest concludes in November.

If that’s the case, it would be a modern record. New York’s average annual production is 29.5 million bushels but last year’s frost reduced the crop to 17.1 million bushels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another family-friendly provider of apples is the Fly Creek Cider Mill and Orchard. Co-owner and vice president Bill Michaels said the early harvest is done at his suppliers, and the season is looking very good. He has McIntosh, Cortland and Galas, while Empires will be coming in next week. The season began the weekend of Aug. 24.

Other early varieties are Paula Reds and Gingergold, Michaels said, and the cider-pressing season has also started. The flavor of the cider changes throughout the season, with the peak usually coming  Columbus Day weekend. The harvest should be done about that time, he said, and the final varieties of the season are the Northern Spy, Jonagold and Ida Red.

The Fly Creek Cider Mill buys its apples from growers in Columbia and Onondaga counties.

“We’re right between two good growing areas,” Michaels said.

The good growing season won’t necessarily reduce prices, which are still fluctuating because the pent-up demand is “keeping growers happy,” Michaels said. But the quality is superb, the size is good and the colors are nice, he said.

Debbie Annutto, co-owner of Annutto’s Farm Stand, said her business buys apples from the Hudson Valley and Western New York, and presses its own cider.

The situation is “100 percent better than last year,” she said. It all depends on the weather in the spring, when the trees blossom. Last year, there were four freezing days during that time.

“The harvest is right on time this year,” with the first of this year’s crop including Paula Reds and McIntosh. She said her favorites are the HoneyCrisps, which are also out now, and the Macouns. They usually come in the first week of October.

When customers come in and find the apples are cheaper and more plentiful than last year, they say “thank god,” she said. “We sell a lot of apples.”

According to the Apple Association, the fruit originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Asia. New York Gov. Peter Stuyvesant planted an apple tree from Holland on the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street in New York City in 1647. Missionaries planted orchards near the Niagara River also in 1700. America’s first commercial nursery was established in Oyster Bay in 1730. McIntosh apples were first propagated and planted in the Champlain Valley in 1835.

It takes three bushels to make a gallon of cider. A bushel weighs 42 pounds and will also yield 20 to 24 quarts of applesauce, according to the Apple Association. More information on apples, including recipes and nutrition facts, is available at www.nyapplecountry.com.