Frank Carlson has worked on about 55 apple harvests, but he’s never seen anything like this.
“We see a lot of little apples that have aborted seeds in them and didn’t size up.”
“Apples that bunched together, 10 or 15 apples in a cluster together, and up and down either side of that, there’s no apples,” says Carlson who owns Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Mass., along with his brothers Robert and Bruce.
And then there are the apple trees that had a very light crop of apples—just 100 feet away from peach trees that had a hearty bloom.
“It’s not an exact science, but it’d be nice if it was,” he tells DigBoston, calling from his farm. “It’s very weird. We haven’t seen anything like this before. “
Signs of the impending apocalypse, perhaps? Or a new form of crop circles?
Nah, the apple picking season came early this year, due to warm weather this spring when they started to bloom, followed by a summer with record-breaking high temperatures. Cold weather following the early bloom also did some damage to the “tender little buds” says Carlson, so some of his trees didn’t produce as many apples at they have in years past.
So if you want to pick your own apples this year, better start a stampede to the nearest orchard to fill your baskets before they’re all gone … right? Not quite.
“Overall, as far as people are concerned, we have plenty of apples,” says Carlson.
“The commercial apple crop is not as large as it has been for other years, but we still have plenty for pick-your-own and for retail,” says Carlson, noting that the season could end about a week earlier.
While usually they would store apples in their cooler rooms for spring months, come April, May, and June, there won’t be as many local apples available in stores, says Carlson, so he advises apple eaters to “come out and enjoy them now.”
Effects of the early season vary greatly from farm to farm. At Cook’s Farm Orchard in Brimfield, Mass., some varieties were ready earlier—McIntosh apples were ready by Labor Day, for instance, but overall their crop is abundant this year, says orchard helper Jim Collins, who has volunteered on the farm for the last four or five years. And unlike some of their competitors, they avoided the early frost that could damage trees because they’re higher up on a hill.
More visible is the effects of the tornado that came through Western Massachusetts in June 2011 and devastated many parts of Brimfield. Collins estimates that they had about 1,500 trees before the tornado; now they’re down to about 800 to 1,000.
Still, they’re getting the same steady flow to the farm as they have in years past, says Collins, and will have plenty to go around.
“We expect a lot of apples to get picked, but we don’t expect to be picked out. That’s how abundant our crop is this year.”
It’s a similar story at Hamilton Orchards in New Salem, Mass.
“Our apple harvest has been better than the two years before,” says farmer Anthony Darling, standing behind boxes of McIntosh, Cortland, and Macoun apples at the Copley Square Farmers Market. How much better? I ask. “Way, way, better,” he says. As for the season coming early, he says it wasn’t by much—maybe a week or so.
So while this may be one of the most bizarre seasons yet for Frank Carlson and his orchard, it’s business as usual, if not better, for other Massachusetts farmers.
It’s just how the apple crisp crumbles.