State's bumper crop of apples ready for holiday weekend rush

Union Leader Correspondent
October 05. 2018 10:43PM
Dorothy Mahoney and her 9-month-old son Liam Graham at Mack's Apples in Londonderry on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (RYAN LESSARD/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

LONDONDERRY — On Friday, Dorothy Mahoney took her 9-month-old son Liam Graham apple picking for the first time.

“We’ve been trying to come out the past couple weeks, but today was the perfect day for it,” Mahoney said at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry.

And farmers say it’s the perfect year for it, too.

Apple growers in the state saw a big crop this year despite low expectations, according to Mack’s farm manager Mike Cross.

“Last year was an exceptionally big crop and we really weren’t expecting a big crop this year,” Cross said.

Cross said apple trees tend to alternate big crop years in order to shore up energy reserves, but the steady rain through most of the summer seems to have ensured two years in a row of high apple yields.

The Columbus Day weekend is expected to bring thousands of visitors out to orchards across the state.

“We probably do 10,000 people on a good weekend,” Cross said.

At nearby Sunnycrest Farm, manager Samantha Fay said she’s seen higher numbers of visitors every year since she started working there in 2006.

“We rearranged our store a little bit so our flow is a little bit better,” Fay said. “We can manage the bigger crowds.”

Cross said Mack’s gets a lot of visitors from Massachusetts since it’s one of the first orchards they reach when traveling north on Interstate 93.

High density

George Hamilton, the statewide expert on tree-grown fruit at the UNH Cooperative Extension, said Hillsborough County was ranked 37th out of over 3,000 counties nationwide for direct apple sales to consumers in 2012. Rockingham County was in the top 100 as well. He said agricultural data like these are updated every five years and the 2017 report hasn’t been released yet.

Hamilton said crops this year have been a little above average and orchards have not had any major problems with insects or disease.

Some orchards are experimenting with higher density orchards. Traditional orchards harvest about 350 to 400 bushels per acre. But high density orchards, like those at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, are yielding closer to 1,000 to 1,200 bushels per acre, Hamilton said.

There are about 1,400 apple orchard acres in the state.

Critter crooks

Wildlife, especially squirrels, have posed a problem for some orchards this year.

Hamilton said he was surprised while meeting with Giff Burnap, the owner of Butternut Farm in Farmington recently, when he watched a squirrel carrying an apple up a tree to its nest, and then returning to retrieve a peach on the other side.

“That son-of-a-gun keeps stealing my profit,”’ Hamilton recalled Burnap saying.

The risk of squirrels stealing apples is heightened by the fact that rodent populations have boomed from recent mast years, when lots of acorns drop from trees. But now that squirrel populations have swelled, trees this year have provided fewer acorns.

“So, now they’re going to be going after alternative foods,” Hamilton said.

Pilferage by squirrels is mostly an issue for smaller-lot orchards located close to forests, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the good crop this year is thanks to a combination of factors, such as a dry spring, and good practices by growers to thin the buds last year. Steady rain and warm temperatures also ensured the apples grew to be nice and big.

So far, growers have harvested about 60 percent of this year’s crop, Hamilton said.

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