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Tue August 21, 2012
N.H. Apple Crop Arrives Early
New Hampshire apples are already ripe, about two weeks ahead of schedule. They're available at farm stands and farmers' markets, but that doesn't mean you can head to the orchards to pick them yourself – just yet.
It's a warm day in the middle of August, but across the region, the apples seem to think it's already September.
"Our schedule changed quite a bit."
That's Chuck Souther.
He and his wife, Diane, own Apple Hill Farm in Concord, where the first apples of the year are already ripe, about ten days earlier than usual.
Like a lot of growers in the state, the Southers noticed this spring that their apple trees were blooming early.
"We actually have looked at records of other growers in New Hampshire back a hundred years, and the 15th to 20th of May has been the normal Macintosh bloom."
But not this year.
"It was right around the fifth to the tenth. The real earliness factor was in March, when winter ended abruptly and suddenly summer was here and, you know, it was ninety degrees."
Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, says that early heat put most the state's fruit ahead of schedule.
"Almost everything has been that week to two weeks early. We saw that with strawberries, we saw that with blueberries, and peaches."
At Apple Hill Farm, Souther says early blossoms gave him the heads-up he needed to start preparing for an earlier apple season.
"There's no going back. Once that train leaves the station, you're on for the ride."
So he and his wife sped up their pre-season pruning, and got their tractors out of storage.
They told some local bee keepers they would need help getting their apple blossoms pollinated early.
And their pickers, a group from Jamaica who have worked on this farm every year for more than a decade, had to be requested for a different date.
With pruning, pollinating, and hiring all done before it was too late, the Southers' apples are now available at their farm stand, earlier than anyone can remember.
But there was one thing Souther didn't move up to match the early season.
"We don't anticipate opening for Pick Your Own before Labor Day."
He says that's because most people, unlike apple trees, usually go by the calendar.
"It seems very much that for people in New Hampshire, and probably New England, it's when the kids go back to school that autumn starts. For us on the farm, we're more on a weather cycle."
That hold on tradition is common at orchards across the state, where farmers worry people just aren't thinking apples yet.
Lorraine Merrill, the Agriculture Commissioner, says most apple growers are keeping their usual start-dates for Pick Your Own.
"It's best to check with your own favorite local orchard and find out if they have Pick Your Own yet."
Along with the start of Pick Your Own season, New Hampshire Apple Day will also still be held on September 5th, its normal date.
Governor Lynch will pick the ceremonial first apple of the year, here at Apple Hill Farm.
But while the date of the ceremony won't be changing, Souther says that “first” apple might be different.
Different kinds of apples are ready at different times, and this year everything's early.
"It'll probably still be a Macintosh, but we'll leave that up to the Governor. We'll offer what we've got ready and we'll see what he wants to pick."
And Souther says more apples early won't mean fewer apples later on.
He still expects enough for Pick Your Own until at least Columbus Day.
On the other hand, he also remembers last year's Halloween blizzard, when twenty-two inches of snow ended harvest.
We'll just have to wait and see.