Valley Bounty: Apples

“I don’t remember seeing this many apples on the trees for quite a while,” Aaron Clark told me during a recent conversation. Clark runs Clark Brothers Orchards in Ashfield with his brothers Dana and Brian. This autumn has been a breath of fresh air for the trio. “We’ve had three years in a row of really poor crops,” Clark said. “So it’s nice to see something that looks better.”

It takes more than a few lackluster seasons to rattle the Clarks–their family has been growing apples for four generations. Clark explained that there were apples planted on their land in Ashfield when his ancestors, Herbert and Bertha, bought the orchard in 1886, “and there have been apples here ever since.” But while the fruit has remained the same over those years, apple growing techniques have developed by leaps and bounds. “In the old days, for my uncle, grandfather, and his father, they planted 30 to 40 trees to the acre,” Clark explained. “These days we’re planting 1,400-1,500 to the acre.” While the “old standards” varieties of apple trees could take 12-15 years before they produced a single apple, modern dwarf varieties can produce a full crop within three to four years after planting. Clark also told me that the dwarf trees are more efficient. “They capture a larger percentage of the sunshine before it hits the ground and they require less input to protect them from pests.”

Clark explained that constant experimentation with new varieties and methods has been essential to the family farm’s success. “Replanting is a constant job,” he said. “The old saying goes, ‘The day you stop planting trees is the day you start going out of business.” The Clark brothers are constantly on the lookout for the next variety that will become a big hit with customers. But the profitability of a new variety can be short lived—once a variety becomes more widely available, the wholesale price drops.  As Clark put it, they’re “at the mercy of whatever the mass market is.”

Through the turbulence of the wholesale market, Clark does his best to keep moving forward with new varieties. Right now, he’s excited about a new arrival in their orchard: Evercrisp. Evercrisp’s parent varieties are Honeycrisp and Fuji. Clark explained that the Evercrisp has the “crisp, juicy” characteristics of Honeycrisp, combined with the added flavor of a Fuji. This is the second year that the farm has had a saleable harvest from the Evercrisp trees they planted back in 2015 and 2016. So far, Clark has heard nothing but rave reviews from the customers at the Clark Brothers Orchards’ farm stand.

Evercrisps won’t be ready for harvest until the end of October. But have no fear: the Clarks, and orchardists throughout the region, are in the full swing harvesting fresh apples. The Mcintosh, Honeycrisp, and Cortland varieties are already in season. Keep an eye out for Macoun and Gala apples by the first week of October, with Empires finding their way to shelves shortly after. That, of course, is just a taste of the countless apple varieties that are grown in the Valley. Whether it’s a classic or brand-new variety, the only way to find your favorite apple of 2019 is to find an orchard or farm stand near you and get to tasting!

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)