Mild spring, frost, drought, the apples hang on


Although Paul Beckstead at Smyth’s Apple Orchard on County Road 18, west of Williamsburg, says 2012 isn’t the worst apple season, it certainly ranks a very close second.

Beckstead, whose Smyth’s Orchard is the largest in South Dundas with over 25,000 trees offering 54 apple varieties, recalls 1981, when whole trees were lost.

That year a mild winter was followed by a very late spring cold snap. “The sap was up and the leaves were out, and it literally froze the sap and the bark,” says Beckstead.

This year the three local apple producers, Smyth’s, Dentz Orchard and Berry Farm on the Brinston Road and Barkley’s Apple Orchard north of Morrisburg, are reporting a better than hoped for apple harvest, but one that falls well short of even an average season.

The poor season got its start back in March when the area experienced unusually mild temperatures, well into the 80s for an extended number of days, which sent the trees into early bud production.

Then in late April, we experienced several days of cold weather with heavy frost which damaged the tender blossoms that were one to two weeks ahead of schedule.

With all of the growers hopeful that enough blossoms were spared for a reasonable harvest, the area then experienced a summer-long drought.

“It’s been so hot and dry which added to more stress on the trees,” says Paul Dentz. 

Dentz explains that the size of apples is relative to the amount of apples on the tree. In other words a smaller crop (which it was heading into the summer) would normally mean bigger apples.

However, because of the drought, the trees were using what moisture they could to stay alive and as a result the apples, with the exception of a handful of varieties, did not develop to be as large as was initially expected.

“It did not turn out as good as we had hoped for,” said PaulDentz. Although Paul and his brother Calvin had brought in a helicopter to fly over their orchards during the frosty April night, and blow the warmer air back down to the ground, “we knew at the time the helicopter was here that the temperatures it was bringing down were not adequate.”

At Smyth’s Orchards, “it’s a touch better than we had anticipated,” says Beckstead. “It was so dry that the apples didn’t size up, so it is by no means a big crop or a bumper crop.”

The Macs are generally down in size as are the Spartans. The Empire and the Delicious, which like more heat, fared slightly better, and it was a good year for the Honey Crisp.”

“We have enough to do the local stores, and we will have apples available all winter for our customers,” says Beckstead.

At the Barkley Orchard, north of Morrisburg, Bill Barkley reports a reasonably good crop.

Barkley says his trees didn’t suffer as much from the drought as might be expected. He owes this to the clay soil which holds moisture better and the fact that, “we probably aren’t tile drained as much a some other producers.”

He also allows natural grass cover to grow up under his trees, which he says also helps to hold the moisture.

“Things are dry, but hopefully we will get a good cover of snow this winter.”

Barkley is selling his apples at local fruit stands, at McHaffie’s Flea Market and at Ottawa Markets.

Smyth’s Orchards will sell from their home location all winter and have their products in various stores in the area. The Dentz farm facility on the Brinston Road will soon close for the season.

The three Orchards are now wrapping up this year’s harvest. Beckstead reports his trees are looking good and are now producing their buds for next year.

Apple lovers can expect to pay a bit more for their favourite fruit this winter, with prices up about 30 percent.

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