Spring meltdowns, frosts lead to unpredictable apple crop
Freshly picked Jonathan apples. | Sun-Times Media File
Updated: October 29, 2012 11:56AM
In March, when the temperatures climbed into the 70s and 80s and stayed there, farmers gritted their teeth and worried.
They worried because the crops began to bloom much too early, making them susceptible to damage when the temperatures dropped near or below freezing again.
The staff at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park spent many nights trying to prevent freeze damage to their premature apple blossoms.
A video on YouTube shows them lighting bonfires between the rows and running hoses with hot water through the trees to help the warming process. They employed a special frost fan, and drove up and down the rows in a tractor, blowing warm air around.
“The goal was to raise the temperature in the orchard just a couple of degrees, that was all we needed,” owner Kim Kuipers said. “We were about to save about 60 percent of the orchard by doing that, whereas a lot of orchards in Illinois lost everything. All you could do was go out there and watch the temperature fall and be ready with a plan. It was a lot of long nights.”
The extra effort paid off — they have a good but limited supply of apples for picking this season. And it will begin earlier than usual, too — they open for apple picking on Aug. 25.
“Everything is on schedule earlier than usual, several weeks ahead,” she said. “We were wondering if because of the drought, if the trees are just trying to abort their fruit in order to save themselves. It’s a double whammy this year. So we’re going to open early to find these apples some homes before they’re no good to anybody.”
They aren’t sure how long the apples will last for those wanting to pick their own, and with everything ripening so early, she thinks the apples may be gone by the middle of September.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to have apples in the store that we’ll be able to (buy) from somewhere else, although that’s very challenging too, because Michigan lost all their apples in the frost,” she said. “They were hit worse than we were. I heard they’ve lost 80 to 90 percent of their entire crop, and that’s a huge industry in Michigan.”
The Kuipers are trying to work with growers they’ve used in the past to secure more apples, but are covering their bases, just in case.
“That’s why we’re pushing the pumpkin farm this year, because we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to be looking at in the apple orchard,” she said.
She recommended families call before they plan to come out, to come Saturday rather than Sunday, and to come earlier in the season rather than later.
“There’s a good possibility that we could open Saturday for apple picking, and if get a big crowd they could wipe out what we have in that orchard for the weekend,” she said. “They all have staggered ripening times.”
Kuipers is just one area apple orchard gearing up for a busy seasons. Some orchards already have opened; others will open in the weeks to come. Many more lost all their crops thanks to the extreme weather and will reopen next spring.