Apple season has arrived in our neck of the woods

An interesting article in the September Nashua Telegraph Feast section written by Dan Harmon and Trevor Hardy.

The local apple season officially opened with the statewide recognition of New England Apple Day on Sept. 7. The apple crop in New Hampshire is produced by more than 150 growers and is worth about $14 million annually. More than 40 percent of that $14 million is grown in Hillsborough County, so there are now plenty of apples available in Greater Nashua area with the ripening of varieties like Macintosh, Cortland, Jonamac, Zester and new favorites like Gala and Honeycrisp. In about three more weeks, we’ll see the arrival of Macoun, Mutsu, Fuji, Spies, Baldwins and others.

This year’s apple crop will be available at many local pick-your-own locations, farm stands and grocery stores. Fresh apple cider will soon follow, made from a blend of different varieties to develop a sweet taste that’s not too tangy. When you go, be sure to pick up some Honeycrisps for the apple tart recipe that follows this column.

Local growers expect to have a large crop this season. Hurricane Irene was a big concern, as there was a possibility that high winds would blow the apples off of the trees. But corn took the brunt of the wind instead, and Irene actually benefited the apple crop by bringing 4 inches of rainfall, followed, 10 days later, by 3 more inches, all absorbed by the apples.

When you go apple picking, take note of the orchards around your local farm stand. Gone are the days when local orchards grew mostly Baldwin and Delicious apples on large trees for use in the all-American favorite: apple pie. Today, you see a wide range of apple varieties, and many are grown on dwarf and semi-dwarf trees that produce more apples and better color. Since sunlight penetrates only about 3 feet of foliage, so apple growers have developed trees with less foliage. And, the trees are often trellised, so that the apples grow in one plane, making them more accessible to sunlight while easier to maintain and pick. Also, the dwarf and semi-dwarf trees can be drip-irrigated, so that less water is required. The result is increased crop yields (almost twice as many apples per acre), higher quality and better color, yet lower labor and less use of water and pesticides.

Do you ever wonder who picks all these apples? In addition to issues like the weather, local growers also have to deal with an uncertain labor supply for the short picking season. The typical sources of temporary help have returned to school, and pick-your-own harvests only a small fraction of the crop. So, the orchards have come to depend upon migratory labor to harvest apples, as each year, around 50 to 60 Jamaicans return to the area under the auspices of a Federal H2A program. This program, which has been in place for more than 30 years, is now in flux given the current rate of unemployment in the United States. Recent legislation requires the hiring of one local person for every H2A employee, and local growers are greatly concerned about finding and keeping qualified pickers locally, as well as losing their trained workforce, many of whom are veterans who have returned to the area to pick apples for many years.


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