The summer so far has been hot and sunny, and the abundance of sunshine makes for a sweet crop of apples this year in the Empire State.
The New York Apple Association, a nonprofit agricultural trade group, predicts this year's state harvest of apples, while smaller than last year's crop due to some damage caused by frost in the spring and because orchards last year yielded a higher crop, will be sweeter than some previous years due to the high number of sunny days.
Local apple growers mostly agreed with this notion, but local conditions made for a slightly slower season.
(The Leader-Herald/Edward J. Hunt)
Jim Hoffman, owner of Sand Flats Orchards in Fonda, examines a few examples of his honeycrisp apple crop. He thinks that these apples will ripen in a few weeks and will be sweet and juicy despite some freeze damage to the fruits in the spring.
Sand Flats Orchards, owned by Jim Hoffman in Fonda, and Rogers Family Orchard, owned by Todd Rogers in Johnstown both took a hit from a hard freeze in mid-May.
"We're going to be a little light on the pick-your-own apples this year because of the freeze," Rogers said. "We'll have plenty of apples in the store, though."
Cider, jams, jellies and pies, among other things also areavailable in the store located next to the orchards.
Hoffman told a similar story.
"It's going to be a challenging year," he said. "Pick-your-own will be limited this year, but we'll be open the weekend after Labor Day with apples for sale."
The freshly painted and expanded Sand Flats farm store sells apples, cider, corn, pumpkins and other farm-fresh products.
Hoffman noted the fruits will be juicier because of the amount of rain received this year.
Both farms conduct tours, hay rides and other events during the season, the "agri-tainment" portion of their businesses.
Tom Bellinger of Bellinger's Orchard in Fultonville was a bit more optimistic about this year's harvest.
"We've got a pretty good crop," he said. "We got hit a little bit by the frost in May and we'll be a little bit off from last year."
He didn't think the crop was early this year, but said he grows about 30 different varieties of apples. Some start to ripen in August and the rest ripen at different times through October. He expects to open his farm stand, complete with apples, cider, pears, corn and plenty of other farm products, in early September. Bellinger's also conducts tours, hay rides and other events.
"The apples are coloring up nicely so far, lots of color," said Ed Pavlus, owner of Pavlus Orchard and farm stand in Fort Plain. The jonamac and gala apples are ripening a little early, he said. He expects his empire and red delicious, both late-season varieties, to come in at their normal times, mid- to late September.
Pavlus said he has noticed that "more and more people are buying locally." He appreciates that residents "are supporting their neighbors" in this way.
As for whether the apples will be sweeter this year, all four farmers agreed the frequent sun and heat will make the apples particularly tasty this year.
"In about six weeks," said Hoffman as he examined some of his trees, "when you eat one of these honeycrisps, you would think this might be the best apple you've ever eaten."
Bellinger said, "If they hang until they're ripe, these apples are great right off the tree."
Edward J. Hunt covers rural Fulton County and southern Hamilton County. He can be reached at email@example.com.