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Branch to Basket, Picking’s Good

September 27, 2018

PLENTY WHERE THEY CAME FROM: John Locker, a fruit grower at Flat Hill Orchards in Lunenburg, has his arms full of Honey Crisp on Wednesday. For the first time in 30 years, Flat Hill is letting customers pick their own apples.

WESTFORD -- The branches of the short trees at Drew Farm are laden with apples. Robust red and vibrant green apples are ready for picking.

With the number of apples hanging on the trees throughout the orchard, owner Keith Bohne said you would think the apples would be smaller. But the crop is doing better than last year’s.

“The growing season was decent. We had plenty of rain and we also had plenty of sunshine,” Bohne said. “Rain helps them get size and the sunshine helps them get sugar. In general those hot days, the apples themselves grow pretty well because the trees can maintain enough water.”

There are 10 acres of apple trees on Drew Farm offering six different varieties.

The weather has cooperated this year for many farmers in the area. Ellen Parlee, co-owner of Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, said they were fortunate not to endure any hurricanes, hail or high winds. There were, however, some sunny days last month reached record-high temperatures.

“One thing we have to worry about is sunburn on the apples,” Parlee said. “That opens it up to spoil because it starts to break down the skin on the apple. One way to combat that is to irrigate.”

Through irrigation, Parlee Farm survived the heat of the summer, and having soil that drains well into the Merrimack River helped with those particularly rainy days.

“I think in terms of the apple production, last year was a very good year for us and I anticipate this year the set is the same,” Parlee said. “At this point our biggest obstacle would be bad weather. We’re hoping that we get some really good fall weather here.”

There are 18 acres of high-density plantings of dwarf apple trees at Parlee Farms, offering more than 20 varieties of apples.

It’s not just external factors like weather that are contributing to this year’s good apple crop. Hard work early in the season sets farmers up for success in the fall. Bohne said you can typically predict what the apple season will be like by the end of June.

“One of the most difficult things to do is to make sure that you don’t have too many apples on the tree,” Bohne said. “Growers do that by spraying certain types of growth regulators and those growth regulators help knock some of the apples off. It’s a fine line between too much and too little.”

At Flat Hill Orchards in Lunenburg, there are about 80 acres of fruit trees. Harvests this year are expected to be as good as last year’s. And for the first time in 30 years, Flat Hill Orchards is offering to let customers pick their own apples.

“We had a big year last year, too. Real big. Our storages were full and we packed right into the springtime,” said Tracy Ricci, who owns the farm with her sister and mother. “We had good pollination and the rain definitely helped with the size of the fruit.”

Looking to the rest of the season, Ricci is also hoping for agreeable weather.

“You want the cool nights and the warm days to ripen the fruit,” Ricci said. ”(The weather) is starting to change so now the apples are starting to change and developing up nice.”

Whether you want a candy apple, an apple pie or just want to take a bite into the fresh fruit, now is the time of year to get locally grown apples.

“We feel very thankful that we’re to this point without any growing issues,” Parlee said. “It looks beautiful.”

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.

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