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updated: 8/6/2012 7:07 PM

Weather hurts orchard's yield, but apples still ready for picking

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  • Gala apples have been badly affected by the drought at Royal Oak Fruit Farm in Harvard.

       Gala apples have been badly affected by the drought at Royal Oak Fruit Farm in Harvard.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Sarah Bell, granddaughter of Royal Oak Farm Orchard owner Peter Bianchini, looks at a full Liberty tree that has not been affected by the summer drought in Harvard.

       Sarah Bell, granddaughter of Royal Oak Farm Orchard owner Peter Bianchini, looks at a full Liberty tree that has not been affected by the summer drought in Harvard.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
By Brian Singer
bsinger@dailyherald.com

A Bible quote posted at Harvard's Royal Oak Farm Orchard reads, "He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit."

Turns out, the owners need that faith this year more than most.

Peter and Gloria Bianchini, who have been running Royal Oak in Harvard since before it opened in 1997, are anticipating a 70 percent drop -- an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 bushels -- this season, which starts Friday and runs through mid-November.

"We're expected to get hit pretty hard," said Justin Bell, financial manager of Royal Oak. "We're doing everything we can to stretch the crop as far as it can go."

The problems started in the spring. Unseasonably warm weather brought apple trees out of dormancy earlier than usual; then a frost killed off apple buds before they had time to develop. The temperatures also affected pollination.

The summer drought cut further into the crop. Though Royal Oak also grows berries and pumpkins, officials there say the apple-picking season brings in about 25 percent of the orchard's income.

Thus, the orchard -- which grows 29 apple varieties -- is looking at its toughest season in 10 years.

Prices will also be up. A peck last year cost $20. While that's still true of already picked varieties, you-pick-it apples will be $30 -- limited to a quarter-peck per person ($7.50).

Yet, there are still apples to be picked, starting with the Red Free -- which are already ripening. Other varieties include Jonamac, Ozark Gold, Goldrush, McIntosh, some Cortland, Liberty, Empire, Red Delicious, Braeburn and Crispin.

An irrigation system helps out, but the drought is causing some apples to be smaller in size and in number.

"The Gala apples are usually more plentiful; we've always had more than (we know) what to do with," Bell said. But this year, there will be a lot fewer.

Where some apples have been missing in action, other trees seem unaffected, like the Liberty apple trees that have been yielding the usual amount. The time the trees start to produce fruit and proper pollination are two key factors that determined which buds survived.

The orchard is more than just apples; along with all that they grow, owners also host field trips, weddings, live concerts and other parties for a variety of different groups. Those functions help keep the farm afloat.

Bell said they also rely on their faith.

"Faith helps us with control," Bell said. "People think that they're in total control when they're not, and we realize that and depend on something greater."

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