With a serious drought under way, every farmer in the region seems to be suffering. Orchards are no exception, with sparse yields and small fruit dealing a blow to the pick-your-own apple crop.
A lot of orchard owners are scrambling to produce at least some apples to sell, but others say their season is already over. And many of the apples that have been produced aren't turning out normally.
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"The drought this year has put a lot of stress on the trees, which causes the fruit to come out different sizes," said Wade Kuipers, owner of the Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.
Kuipers is lucky; his farm has been able to salvage a good 70 percent of his apple crop and will be open for business this apple-picking season. Many orchards around the suburbs report crops of just 10 percent to 20 percent of usual levels.
Confirmed orchards that are sold out of apples include the Royal Oak Farm in Harvard, Woodstock Country Orchard in Woodstock, Lang's Orchard in Woodstock, Knoll's Vegetable Farm and Apple Orchard in Woodstock, Homestead Orchard in Woodstock, and Pine Apple Acres in Huntley.
The drought is only partly responsible. A very warm March brought apple trees out of dormancy too early, and then frost caused the apple buds to die.
Some trees put out a second round of new buds later in the spring, but the apples that result sometimes have a light brown ring or bumps and bruises around the apple, making them look unappealing.
Pat Curran, owner of Curran's Orchard in Rockford, said this isn't the first time bad weather has affected his apples. "I haven't had a full crop in four years," Curran admitted. "The frost has been hitting Illinois farms these past few years, but this year is the worst."
Frost, drought and other weather disasters come with the territory, said Brenda Dahlfors, the Master Gardener program coordinator at the University of Illinois Extension Service,
"Farming is really for gamblers," she said. "There's potential for this every year."
Dahlfors mentioned that farms with apple trees in higher spots were less susceptible to frost than those in low-lying areas. But drought damage doesn't necessarily follow the same rule of thumb, leaving slim pickings at suburban orchards this year.