By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN How has this year’s apple crop been?
Depending on the orchard and the apple variety, growers responses have ranged from “complete disaster” to “excellent.”
The first obstacle they had to overcome was the brutal winter. Because of prolonged sub-zero temps and low dew points, many trees around the state didn’t survive or were damaged.
“It has been challenging,” said Ron Nyquist, owner of Countryside Apple Orchard in Cokato. In his 20-plus years in business, this is the first year he’s lost trees to “winter injury.”
Rich Pawelk of Luce Line Orchards in Watertown noticed the affects, as well.
“Certain varieties were good,” he said. “Zestar! and SweeTango were good, but Honeycrisp was pretty weak. It’s a more finicky tree. We probably lost 20 trees, primarily Honeycrisp.”
Dassel Hillside Farm owners Karl and Julie Townsend had a similar situation.
“We didn’t lose any trees, but we had a light crop of Honeycrisp,” Julie Townsend said.
Heading east to Apple Jack Orchard in Delano, trees seemed to make it through the winter with less difficulty.
“It’s been an excellent year; the weather’s been excellent,” owner Mike Dekarski said. “Everything has gone better than expected.”
With snow persisting into April, blossoms throughout Minnesota got a late start in 2014.
“Everything’s been about two weeks later,” Townsend said.
The cool spring affected pollination at some orchards, as well. Nyquist said his honeybees were reluctant to work as hard, so other insects had to take over.
Although excessive rain impeded traditional farmers this spring, many apple growers said moisture wasn’t a big issue.
“We actually had to water the first week of August, because it was dry,” Townsend said.
At Apple Tree-O in Delano, the trees are on top of a hilly slope, so they weren’t damaged, either.
“The trees on higher hills did very well,” Pawelk said of his orchard in Watertown, adding that the trees on lower ground had it more difficult. “Even though the trees weren’t in standing water, the water table was so close. It was like an aquifer coming up.”
Dekarski said his trees are mainly on level ground, but they weren’t hindered by the rain, either.
“We had no hail, and we had enough rain,” he said.
Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm in Waverly wasn’t as lucky. The morning of Sept. 3, the farm’s entire 24-acre apple crop was destroyed by hail.
“It was a very, very narrow band of hail,” Jenna Untiedt said after the storm.
In addition to thick hail that lingered on the ground like a blanket of snow, the farm received 3 inches of rain in less than one hour.
“It’s hard, because we had a lot of customers waiting,” Untiedt said.
Here’s the harvest
With the exception of Untiedts, area orchards have had a good assortment of apples this year, even if some varieties didn’t fare as well.
“I can’t complain,” Pawelk said. “We still got a lot of nice Honeycrisp.”
As of Oct. 6, Dassel Hillside Farm was picking its later varieties, including Regent and Haralson.
“We haven’t picked SnowSweet yet,” Townsend added.
According to the University of Minnesota, SnowSweet is an increasingly popular cold-hardy variety that was introduced in 2006.
“Our SnowSweet apples look really good,” Pawelk said. “They actually sweeten with a little frost.”
Pumpkin picking is also in full swing.
“We’ve had a good pumpkin crop,” Dekarski said, adding that although the pumpkins aren’t quite as big as some years, there’s still a nice variety available.
At Fall Harvest Orchard in Montrose, rain washed out initial plantings of pumpkins and squash, and there wasn’t enough time for a second planting to grow. The Montrose orchard is in it’s last season, due to the passing of owner Curt Peterson Aug. 31.
“We hope that all of you who have visited us went away with lots of good memories,” Curt’s wife, Helen, noted on the Fall Harvest Orchard website.
The farm (located at 345 Co. Rd. 30 SE, Montrose) is currently for sale. The listing includes more than 43 acres, and about 3,800 apple trees.
Fall Harvest Orchard’s last day open will be Sunday, Oct. 19.
The season is also winding down for Dassel Hillside Farm, which plans to stay open through the end of October.
Some places stay open later, such as Apple Jack Orchards (open until mid-November), and Carlson’s Apple Orchard near Winsted (open until Wednesday, Nov. 26).