Andrea Rincon reaches for an apple at Johnston’s Orchard on Monday afternoon. It was her first time picking apples. Rincon and her husband, James Kaiser, spend half the year on Branch Lake and half in Colombia, where Rincon was born. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Bountiful apple crop forecast, despite drought

ELLSWORTH — The apple crop is looking bountiful this year, despite several sustained years of drought, said Renae Moran, associate professor of pomology at the University of Maine.

“I think it looks good. I’m so glad we got some rain,” Moran said on Sept. 11.

A three-year dry spell is affecting the trees, Moran added, but it’s not likely to reduce yield this year.

“They just don’t look as healthy as they should. They’ve been losing leaves through the summer.”

Brett Johnston, who runs Johnston’s Orchards in Ellsworth with his wife, said the family’s crop was looking “at best average. It’s not a bumper crop by any means.”

Johnston said he had a few trees suffering from the prolonged dry spell, but no large-scale losses.

“It’s farming. Nothing’s exact; it’s a little risky all the time.”

Jim Baranski of Shalom Organic Orchard and Winery in Franklin said his family’s trees were not suffering from the drought as far as he could tell.

“We’ve got pretty well-watered soil,” said Baranski, adding that his crop looks “pretty good” this year.

Apple trees tend to be drought tolerant, Moran said, but extended dry spells can affect the trees’ hardiness through the winter months.

Growing conditions in the state have been “outstanding,” wrote Russell Powell in a post on the Apple Blog on in late August.

Maine apple growers anticipate a 10 percent bump over a year ago and 25 percent above the state’s five-year average, Powell wrote. Little rain in Connecticut and Vermont may mean a smaller crop for those states, while New Hampshire’s bounty should be “similar to last year’s.”

It hasn’t been all rosy for the fruit this year, however. At a meeting of the U.S. Apple Association in late August, Chairman Mark Boyer called 2018 “one of the most challenging and unusual years in the 123-year history of the U.S. Apple Association.”

“The White House has taken actions to restrict trade with Mexico, India and China — our first, second and sixth largest export markets,” Boyer said. “That has us all unsettled as we kick off the new harvest.”

The United States is the world’s second-largest apple-producing country behind China. Around a fourth of the nation’s crop — $1 billion worth — is exported each year, both to neighbors (Mexico and Canada) as well as to more far-flung locales, such as the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

New England is another story. Most apples grown in Maine will stay here, said Moran, sold either directly to consumers at farm stands or wholesale to supermarkets.

Tastes for apples have changed over the years, said Moran, with Honeycrisp increasing in popularity while consumers’ fondness for Red and Golden Delicious varieties has been decreasing.

This year, Moran is excited for SnowSweets and Crimson Crisps. SnowSweets, said Moran, are sweet and “not overwhelmingly sour,” and Crimson Crisps have an “intense flavor.”

Johnston also mentioned Crimson Crisps as a favorite. “It’s a little bit tart and a little bit sweet.”

Baranski, who uses the majority of his apples to make wine and cider, noted that Northern Spy and Golden Russet are good cider apples.

Not all Maine counties have commercial orchards, said Moran, who could think of just two (Shalom and Johnston’s) in Hancock County and none in Washington County.

“That’s blueberry country,” Moran said. “I don’t think the soil is right.”

Humans have been munching on the crisp fruit for most of recorded history, at least since 6,500 B.C., and have also spent years using them for more creative pursuits, such as producing really, really long peels. The world’s longest was created by a 16-year-old girl in 1976 in Rochester, N.Y., out of a 1.25-pound fruit, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. After 12 hours, she wound up with a peel measuring 172 feet, 4 inches.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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