Happy harvest at area apple orchards

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Ontario’s apple producers are still recovering from last year’s killing spring frost.

“Last year was a disaster,” said Monika Richter Wednesday morning at M&R Orchards just west of Tillsonburg along Highway #3, noting they had roughly 2% of an average crop. 2012 was hard on growers, but also employees, including the picking crew M&R has employed for years. “It was a tough year for everybody,” said Richter.

But so far through this year’s growing season, their trees are doing their best to help.

“This year, we have so many apples we might be short on bins.”

“They’re great,” agreed Rebecca Visscher inside Sundown Farms’ Country Store, just north of Tillsonburg along Cranberry Line. “Much better than last year – there’s a-plenty.”

Picking began at Sundown Farms around the first week of September, said Visscher, and has proceeded from early varieties, through to later-maturing breeds.

“Almost all of our apples are ready,” she said. “And they’ll be picking for a while yet.”

Apples are a hearty, healthy fruit, says Visscher, who prefers honey crisp for eating and mutsu for baking.

They are something pretty much everyone eats she continued, whether in their natural state, or in pies, apple crisp recipes or her personal favourite, an apple dumpling creation featuring butter pastry folded around a cored, peeled apple, stuffed with brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans and garnished with butter rum caramel sauce before being baked.

“Man, that’s good,” Visscher smiled. “The pecans make it.”

Trees at M&R Orchards are also ‘loaded,’ said Jeannine Richter Wednesday morning, out in the orchard heading up a crew hand-picking Ida reds off older trees for making cider.

“It’s either too many apples or not enough,” she laughed. “I think it’s one of our best years, yield-wise.”

It’s almost as though the trees had a year off due to last year’s frost, and ‘rested up’, are making up for lost time.

“It looks like that’s what they did,” said Richter. “Blossoms were popping up everywhere and every blossom seemed to make it.”

Quality is good, says Richter, despite fears so many apples per tree would mean smaller size.

“They are sizing up pretty good.”

Too many apples is far better than too few, Richter agreed.

“Definitely, and the customers appreciate the price drop too.”

Richter anticipates picking will continue at M&R Orchards for at least another three weeks, meaning ample stores of both apples and cider lasting through the winter.

“This will keep us selling apples until the end of June.”

Prime time to enjoy nature’s bounty however she believes, is right now.

“Harvest time is the best time,” Richter concluded. “When they are right off the tree.”

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