Extreme weather takes its toll on specialty varieties at local orchard
By Jennifer Eisenbart
As you walk into the barn at Brightonwoods Orchard on highways 142 and B just south of Burlington, you can see the effect an early spring and dry summer has had on the apple crop.
In fact, as you walk back into the main area of the store with its apple displays, you see a dish with a sign that reads, “Yuck! Freeze damaged Honey Crisp.”
The apples in the dish look uniformly unappealing and rotten. But Brightonwoods co-owner Bill Stone said Tuesday that if you cut into the apple, it would taste just fine.
“The fruit’s smaller, and somewhat misshapen,” said Stone. “We should’ve picked about 300 bushels. We picked about 10.
“They taste good, they just look bad.”
His honey crisp apple crop – one of about 200 kinds of apples available on the farm – is almost nil this year. In a normal year, the orchard would bring in more than 6,000 bushels of apples.
This year, he said, the crop will be about 1,700 bushels.
“We’re going to be done by Halloween,” explained Stone, who owns the orchard along with his wife Judith and her sister-in-law, Paula Puntenney. “It’s pretty terrible.”
The loss of a large portion of the apple crop shouldn’t be news in Wisconsin right now. A number of area orchards are struggling, with some, according to Stone, losing close to 90 percent of their crop.
What happened, he said, was the unseasonable warmth in March forced the trees to blossom early, and then the cold in April killed many of the blossoms.
When apples did appear on the trees, some didn’t grow properly. Others dropped off the branches, not anchored as solidly as they normally would have been.
The dry summer finished off the damage. Part of Brightonwoods is irrigated, but that part was most affected by the cold weather. The trees that best survived the cold did not have irrigation to provide the struggling trees with water.
“When the trees got stressed in August, we were seeing huge drops,” Stone said.
The end results are fewer apples – and virtually none of some of the specialty apples, like honey crisps. Stone did say they have been able to order in some varieties, while others – like Macintosh and golden delicious – seem to be producing a healthy crop in spite of the problems.
But Stone warned that most people will want to call ahead if they are looking for something specific at the orchard.
“Many varieties, we don’t have any,” said Stone.
It’s not just the apple crop that’s the problem, either. The orchard has pressed cider just once so far, though a second pressing will take place this week. What the orchard gets from that – plus 800 gallons of cider left from last year – will be less than normal.
“There may be times when we don’t have cider,” Stone said.
Still, Stone said, so long as people aren’t picky about what kind of apples they get – or even about getting apples at all – coming out to the orchard isn’t a bad thing to do.
“It’s still nice to come out on a pretty day,” Stone said. “Even if their favorite fruit isn’t in.”