Quirky Weather Spared many Well-Prepared Hollis Farms

Timing is everything when it comes to fruit trees and weather. Fruit trees have different patterns of shoot and fruit growth, so heat, frost, and rain patterns during different times of the season will result in varying responses.   An early frost can kill the vulnerable flower buds that were to become the season’s apple crop.  Low rainfall in the early season can affect fruit size, as the first 50 days after bloom is an important time for fruit development.  Mid-season drought can put stress on the shoot growth and the carbohydrate reserves for the following spring’s healthy root, shoot, leaf, flower, and fruit growth.

New Hampshire farmers are used to Mother Nature’s surprises, but this year she was particularly tricky.    Spring arrived weeks early and was followed by a cold snap that caused significant losses to the local fruit harvest.  Fortunately, not all the reports from the Hollis farms are bleak, as geography and crop diversity contributed to a formula that kept Hollis farms productive even as Mother Nature threw her curve balls.

David Orde of Lull Farm estimated that he lost close to 50 percent of his apple crop.  “That hot weather in March caused the apple buds to appear 2-3 weeks early.  Then the freeze came and killed off so many apple flowers.”  But, farms with orchards on higher ground and hillsides fare better during frosts, as cold air falls and hovers on low-laying orchards and is particularly threatening to smaller dwarf trees and the lower portions of standard trees.  Fortunately, many Hollis orchards are located on higher terrain, and managed to avoid the bud losses that other areas of New Hampshire and Maine did.  “Farms all over northern New Hampshire and Maine lost much more than we did” says Orde.   “Now, when we go into the Boston produce market to sell our apples, they are begging us for more. The Macintosh and the Macouns got hit the hardest this year, but we’ll hold them back from the Boston market so we can keep them at the stands” says Orde.

Just up the street at Lavoie Farm, Adrian Lavoie fared better as well.  The crazy weather pattern of the early spring did not negatively affect his fruit crops as much as he had feared. Once the weather settled and the spring rains came, the orchards fell into to their normal pattern of growth. “We have plenty of apples to pick and sell this year” says Lavoie.

Losing so much of an important revenue crop can have a domino effect for smaller farms.  Years ago, apple farmers focused mainly on apple and cider production, and a frost that knocks out 50 percent of a farm’s revenue generating apple crop would be a devastating hit.  But today, many farms have expanded their crops to protect them from weather disasters.  Hollis’s commercial farms offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, dry goods, nursery stock, and gifts as a way to diversify offerings and entice customers.  “When I started Lull Farm I was harvesting only apples, but now apples are only 15% of my business” said Orde.

Hollis farms pride themselves on their many varieties of apples, most of which you will not come across at a grocery store, but will instead find filling the wooden bins at farm stands and local farmer’s markets.  Whether you are shopping at a farm stand or taking the family for an outing at a “Pick Your Own” stand, you will have plenty of apples to choose from – Gravenstein, Zestar, Paula Red, Golden Supreme, Mollies Delicious, Ginger Golds, and Honey Crisp are just some of the varieties you are likely to find.

While all are delicious eating apples, some are better than others for baking.  Macintosh, Macoun, and Delicious are best for snacking on or slicing into a salad.   Select varieties that hold their shape for cooking, such as Honey Crisp, Jonagold, Cortland, Granny Smith, and Jonathan, are great for cooking and baking.  Use a combination of two or three of these for your next pie or the apple sweet potato tart recipe that follows.

If you are looking for homemade pies or the perfect apple crisp, be sure to attend the Hollis Apple Festival on Sunday, October 7th at 2:00PM on Monument Square in Hollis.  This town-favorite festival and band concert is not to be missed as a celebration of the  importance of our local apple harvest. For festival information go to www.holliswomansclub.org

This post was written by Liz Barbour of the Creative Feast www.thecreativefeast.com.


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