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Apples for picking scarce this year

Debbie Easfills gutter with apples County Line Orchard Hobart Ind. Wednesday September 5 2012.  A shortage apples due difficult

Debbie Eason fills a gutter with apples at County Line Orchard in Hobart, Ind. Wednesday September 5, 2012. A shortage of apples due to difficult weather conditions led the orchard to install gutters in some trees for picking. With a nod toward the humor of the arrangement, the "It's Raining Apples" theme is also used as a teaching point for school groups about how weather affects the growing season. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 10, 2012 8:46AM



The fall tradition of picking apples is big business for Northwest Indiana orchards, with families coming from neighboring states for fresh apples and delicious doughnuts.

But orchards suffered a much diminished crop this year due to a combination of weather problems, and few will offer a chance to pick the apples directly off the tree.

County Line Orchard won’t offer a traditional you-pick operation since 70 percent of its crop was damaged by spring frosts and summer heat.

Owner Ryan Richardson said the loyal customer base and 250 employees made closing impossible, so they have installed five miles of rain gutters in the trees to dispense apples and give customers a chance to experience the orchard. Most of the apples available were sourced from other family-owned orchards in the Midwest.

“Our first weekend went very well and were amazed at how supportive and positive our customers were,” Richardson said. “The apple situation is hopefully a once in a decade event and with weather being out of our control I think our loyal customers understood that this is the last thing we want.”

The summer heat that damaged so much of the nation’s corn crop wasn’t the primary culprit in this case, according to LaPorte-based Garwood Orchard co-owner Corey Garwood.

“It was mainly due to the early warm temperatures in February, when the trees started moving along at rate that usually occurs in late spring,” Garwood said. “Then we had late frost and not much rain this year.”

The late frost killed many of the apples forming on the trees and those that did survive were smaller, lacked typical coloring and ripened weeks earlier than expected. Richardson said half of the remaining apples were harvested and pressed into cider.

Some varieties, like Shizuka, won’t be available this year. But Garwood said that favorites like Red and Golden Delicious, Gala and Honeycrisp will be available for purchase.

Garwood Orchard will offer customers the chance to pick apples, but the majority of the crop was lost or damaged so they also had to supplement apples from other orchards. But he said the orchard is focusing on its other amenities, such as weekend concerts, wagon rides and its bakery.

Mowry’s Fruit Farm in Crown Point will not offer apple picking this year, but it will offer pre-packaged apples and pear picking will begin in late September.

Richardson said most orchards east of the Rocky Mountains were affected in some way by the dearth of apples, but he said most are doing their best to help out each other.

“We’ve never really had a year like this,” Richardson said. “We’re trying not to pass along too much of the cost increase to the customer. These apples definitely aren’t cheap because they’re scarce, When you get into the smaller apples and farms, you don’t see the price gouging.”

Orchard owners aren’t sure of the exact financial loss at this point, but Richardson said he’s looking to simply break even and head into next year.



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