By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN Some got hail and some got frost, but overall, the apple crops of local orchards are looking mighty tasty and ahead of schedule this season.
“It’s been a good crop this year,” said Colleen Carlson of Carlson’s Orchard, located five miles west of Winsted. “We missed some pretty nasty storms in the area. So far, they all look very nice.”
Carlson’s Orchard was able to avoid the frost that impacted many of the area farms.
“The shelter from all the trees might have helped,” Carlson said. “But, we’ve had our moments, too.”
Apple Jack Orchards in Delano is expecting a high-quality crop this fall, despite frost at the beginning of May, which destroyed some of the apple blossoms.
“During the blossom time, it’s very serious to have a frost,” said owner Kit Dekarski.
Another issue that’s affecting yields is pollination.
“It was a cold and rainy week when the bees were out,” Dekarski said, explaining that they are not as active in chilly weather.
Apple Jack Orchards was fortunate not to get any hail, however.
“There were basically three things going on, and we dodged one of them,” Dekarski said.
Fall Harvest Orchard, located between Montrose and Delano, was not quite as lucky. Many of its apples were damaged by hail in July.
“It was one storm. Fifteen minutes. That’s all it took,” owner Curt Peterson said.
The hailstones at Fall Harvest Orchard were about three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
“It wasn’t that monster stuff, but there was just so much of it,” Peterson said. “When it’s hard and sharp, it doesn’t take that much.”
The early apple varieties typically have a thinner skin, as well, making them more susceptible to hail damage.
“It’s been 18 years, and this is the first time we’ve had anything like this,” Peterson said. “We can’t complain.”
Woodland Hills Winery is only about a half mile from Fall Harvest Orchard, but it missed the brunt of the bad weather.
“We did get a little frost, and we got some hail damage, too, but not much,” owner Kit Dickerman said. “We were lucky. Our grapes are excellent.”
Dickerman keeps a light-hearted attitude about the few areas that were damaged.
“The grapes that did get hit, they shrivel up and turn into raisins,” she laughed.
Weather may have caused some orchards to have fewer apples, but they’re definitely not lacking in size and juiciness.
“The quality is just excellent,” said Julie Townsend of Dassel Hillside Farm.
Most local orchards have early-, middle-, and late-season apples. One of the most popular mid-season apples is the Honeycrisp.
“That’s the number-one selling apple,” Carlson said.
Countryside Farms in Cokato started picking Honeycrisp Tuesday.
“Everybody wants Honeycrisp,” commented owner Ron Nyquist.
Other well-loved University of Minnesota fruit program varieties include the Fireside (introduced in 1943) and the Haralson (introduced in 1922).
“Everybody likes to use Haralson to make pies,” Townsend said. Dassel Hillside has about 20 types of apples to choose from.
One of the oldest varieties was developed in 1868, in Excelsior, by a man named Peter Gideon. He called it the “Wealthy” apple, in honor of his wife’s maiden name.
A new apple that’s gaining popularity is the SweeTango.
“It’s a little bit sweeter than the Honeycrisp, and slightly tangy,” said Curt Peterson of Harvest Orchard in Montrose. Last year, Peterson’s orchard had more than 30 bushels of SweeTangos.
“Many people preferred it over the Honeycrisp,” Peterson said. This year, the SweeTango crop wasn’t as abundant as hoped, however.
“We had wonderful blossoms, but it was too cold, and the bees wouldn’t move,” Peterson said. “We were expecting 100 bushels, but only got three.”
The same thing happened with the Zestar! variety.
“We should have had a couple hundred bushels, but only got about 10,” Peterson said.
Having fewer apples is disappointing, but Peterson focuses on the bright side.
“It was maybe a blessing,” he said. “It would have been even more of a heartbreak to have all those Zestar!s, and then to have them damaged by hail.”
Carlson’s Orchard has about 4,000 trees, and 12 apple varieties. The orchard is open in mid-August, and closes the day before Thanksgiving.
The last apples harvested are the Keepsakes, in mid-to-late October. According to the U of M website, Keepsakes are a hard, crisp apple that stores for up to six months.
Some people come to Carlson’s Orchard simply to purchase a bag of apples, but many also stay for a soup, salad, and sandwich lunch.
The restaurant and bakery offers apple pie and ice cream for dessert, and customers can also purchase whole pies to take home.
The last two Sundays in September and the first two in October, Carlson’s adds a pork chop dinner to its lunch menu.
“We have music on certain days, and we do hayrides on the weekends,” Carlson added.