After slim pickings last year, apples are back
Though some parts of the state and the rest of New England are expecting an increase in this year's apple crop, it appears to be business as usual at some of the area's most popular pick-your-own orchards.
The New England Apple Association reports that a significantly larger estimated harvest in the region can thank widespread frost and hail from last year, when the region harvested only 75 percent of what it normally does.
This year, according to the group's website, New England should be almost back to normal with 3.5 million 42-pound boxes, and Connecticut is expected to see an 18 percent increase.
But the owners of both Scott's Yankee Farmer in East Lyme and Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry said they eluded the weather that plagued farmers elsewhere, leaving them with two solid apple seasons in a row.
"We were fortunate last year and didn't have any of that problem, so we had a good crop anyway," said Karen Scott, who owns Scott's Yankee Farmer with husband Tom.
Pick-your-own began at both orchards Labor Day weekend, starting the season off with Macintoshes and Cortlands. In the next couple of months, as many as 15 other varieties will be available - grocery-store staples like Red Delicious and Granny Smith along with wine saps, Ida Reds and Mutsus - with the harvest wrapping up by Halloween.
At Holmberg Orchards early Sunday afternoon, a few dozen cars were packed into the parking lot adjacent to 25 acres of apple trees. A tractor loaded up with customers for a jaunt farther out into the orchard, back where the last of the summer peaches and nectarines awaited.
Wandering between neat rows of Cortlands, Jan Vondeck and daughter Abbey, 16, and friend Amanda Gooch, also 16, of Groton, grasped white plastic grocery bags sagging under the weight of their loot - 11 pounds in all when Diane Holmberg rang them up at the cashier's table.
"We had to stop ourselves," Vondeck said.
They've been coming to Holmberg every year for the past five years - an outing quicker and more satisfying than a trip to the grocery store.
"There's no comparison in taste," she said.
A couple of rows over, Joe Aquitante was giving 9-year-old son Dominic a boost up into a tree while wife Melisa snapped a quick iPhone photo and encouraged her 6-year-old apple connoisseur daughter, Gabriella, to be less choosy.
The Oakdale family has tried other pick-your-own spots, but they said nothing quite compares to the family-oriented Holmberg Orchards. It's more organized here, Aquitante said - and, of course, they have big apples.
"We came right back here," he said.
Russell Holmberg said a hot July sized up the crop and a spate of cool nights has egged on the fruit's rich, appealing coloring and brought out its sweetness.
Holmberg said sometimes apple crops grow in cycles: If there's a big yield one year, chances are the next year's crop will shrink.
Not so this year, he said. They expect to hit 12,000 bushels - a bushel containing about 100 apples - or surpass it, putting them "on the plus side of average."
"It's a great year," he said.
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