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(HOST) Apples are among the last crops of the season, and commentator Ron Krupp has been taking stock of this year’s harvest.

(KRUPP) Ron Hackett of Hackett’s Orchard in South Hero lost fifty percent of his apple crop this spring, even though the fall apples were of good quality and color and okay size. Hackett has two main blocks of trees, the upper and lower ones. On May 10th, the sun shown forth in all her glory and the upper bloc of apples blossomed out and were pollinated by the bees. On Friday, May 13th, the cooler lower block was just beginning to blossom when the cold rains came and the bees stayed in their hives. There was basically a three day window of opportunity and timing was of the essence.

Bees are necessary for a good apple harvest. The insects go from apple blossom to apple blossom to pollinate the trees. They don’t do their work well when the weather is wet and cold. Relentless rains in May drove many of the honeybees into their hives.

According to Steve Justis, an apple specialist with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, it was an okay year depending on your locality and how the grower marketed the apples. He said more orchards are relying on direct sales and pick-your-own operations. The key today is to find a marketing niche.

After years of losing apple orchard acreage and apple sales due to international competition, the state’s apple market has begun to stabilize.

There are about forty commercial apple producers left in Vermont and more than twelve million dollars was generated from sales of fruit in 2005, plus another seven million in apple products such as cider and pies. Apple prices so far are strong. They increased from ten to thirty percent in 2006.

Andrea Darrow of Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, said her trees did not survive the cold wet spring as well as the trees at Scott Farm some five miles away in Dummerston. Ezekial Goodband manages the orchard at Scott Farm. He initiated a unique marketing experiment this fall by offering fruit shares for ten weeks, beginning the last week in August. The season started with tree-ripened peaches and then featured a different apple variety for each of the following weeks. The fruit came in half-peck bags and was picked fresh that day.

In addition to direct sales, Goodband sells apples to natural food co-ops and health food stores. They are picked-up and distributed by Black River Produce of North Springfield. Goodband’s name sounds like one of those old-fashioned varieties he cultivates. He’s becoming Vermont’s heirloom apple expert with in-depth knowledge of seventy varieties of rare and exotic sounding apples, including Pitmason Pine Apple, Belle de Boskoop, Esopus Spitzenburg and Newtown Pippin.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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