Weather conditions earlier this year put a slight delay on apple season but should not impact the output of local growers this fall.
For orchards both large and small, this year’s apples are growing about a week behind recent years due to the lengthy winter and cold, wet spring.
Wayne Geist, co-owner of Bushel & A Peck with wife Lisa Geist, oversees around 20,000 trees and 32 apple varieties in rural Chippewa County. This year’s production is a tad behind others, but Geist said the recent daytime sun and rainy, cool nights have helped the fruits grow.
Connell’s Family Orchard co-owners Rick Connell and Steve Connell said this year stands slightly behind average compared to the previous six years. The brothers are the sixth generation of Connells to own the 161-year-old orchard in Chippewa County that offers more than 30 varieties of apples. They currently offer six types and should have a few more within the next week.
Jon Chapman has co-owned The Glass Orchard just south of Eau Claire for two years with Dawn Passineau. Chapman said the four-acre orchard, which opened its fall season on Sept. 6, is about a week behind schedule compared to last year.
Three of the orchard’s nine apple varieties are currently available.
For most orchards, business will have begun ramping up this past weekend and continue for the next several weeks. The Connells said the busiest time will likely be late September and early October, though the orchard usually has the most varieties available in mid-October.
Geist said his season essentially lasts from mid-September to the middle of October.
Chapman said it has been challenging to figure out how to make an orchard productive in a timely fashion. All of the work is done by hand, so it is a time-consuming process to prune the trees, which entails ridding trees of branches and vegetation so apples can grow better.
Geist said the toughest challenge involves the unpredictability of Mother Nature. Rick Connell agreed and said any year without a weather disaster like hail or spring frost bodes well for the fall. Fortunately, growers didn’t deal with frost that can harm apples when they are most vulnerable, nor was there any damaging hail.
Rick Connell said technological innovation has made it easier to plant, as the company now has about 5,000 trees. Geist agreed, noting that he uses integrated pest management to help the fruits grow. He said this year is on pace to be one of the most productive in his seven years working the business.