Though Peaches were Sparse, This Year’s Apple Crop Comes Early

The Recorder, August 14, 2016, by Richie Davis

The first thing you notice at Clarkdale Fruit Farms is the absolute absence of peaches.

Wiped out by a freak Valentine’s Day weekend deep freeze of buds, which had opened early because of unseasonably warm winter conditions, peaches are gone around the region, where they are prized by growers as an early-season cash crop that helps pay the bills.

Instead, this year, there are apples, which are ripening slightly earlier than usual, says Ben Clark, looking over his family’s West Deerfield stand with Paula Reds and Sansa apples, along with their expanded vegetable garden’s cucumbers, peppers and early peas where in other years peaches would be.

“Normally, we’d be bursting with peaches, and people are used to coming for peaches every day … We’ve had some come and be disappointed, but mostly people have heard, so it’s disappointing when we have to break the news” that yes, there are no peaches.

The farm will lose about 30 percent of its gross revenue this year, he estimated, although it is insured for the loss.

About two-thirds of the apple trees are irrigated, and Clark said he tried to thin out the older, more resilient trees without irrigation. “But we were nervous because we knew we didn’t have peaches, so we wanted to make sure we had a good apple crop. Since we left some trees heavy with fruit, they’re going to be a little smaller size. It’s a good crop, a healthy crop.”

And the slightly smaller size may mean that some of those will go for cider, with a little more concentrated flavor.

The spring frost also affected the crops of pears and especially plums, which will be in shorter supply, although it will be a good season for grapes.

Because of the stress from dryness and heat, some varieties of apples are ripening and in a few cases dropping a little earlier than usual, said Clark, who hopes to encourage customers to satisfy their August peach craving with early season apples.

Pine Hill Orchards

David Shearer of Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain said that as far as his five to six acres of peaches, which typically yield 300 to 500 bushels, this year’s crop is “non-existent.”

Because he’s in the process of converting to a high-density orchard, about 10 percent of the apple orchard still has a very shallow root system that’s being hurt by the dry conditions — even as he’s trying to install an irrigation system.

“They definitely need rain … a nice good rain or two, not 2 inches for five minutes,” he said.

That said, “Things aren’t looking too bad. It’s a pretty good crop, considering,” and he estimated it might yield a bit more than 30,000 bushels, compared to the 45,000 bushels in last year’s bumper crop.

The early crop of Paula reds and ginger golds are nearly a week earlier than usual, and the heat may start quickening that ripening.

At Apex Orchards in Shelburne, grower Tim Smith said he’s started picking some early varieties.

“Things are sizing up well now that we’ve gotten some rain,” said Smith, who was able to irrigate most of the orchard. “Right now, it’s all looking pretty good.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:

or: 413-772-0261, ext. 269