Thursday, August 15, 2013

Getting Ready for Apple Harvest

Apples are a big crop in the Beaver Valley; in fact Grey County is the #1 producer of apples in Ontario.  Especially in the lower valley near Thornbury, not too far from Georgian Bay, apple orchards are widespread.  And now is the time to get ready for the harvest, which will go on for the next 3 months.

These are honey crisp apples, not yet ready for picking, but looking good.  They are the best tasting apple variety grown here in my opinion, but also the most expensive - for good reasons; harvest requires repeated picking instead of just one pass through the tree, and they are a relatively new variety, with trees just beginning to bear good crops.

Apples grow well here for several reasons.  The water of Georgian Bay tends to moderate temperature, reducing the chance of spring frost damage to blossoms.    Many orchards are planted on slopes leading down from the escarpment, providing cold air drainage, again reducing the chance of frost damage.  And the gravelly soil of the old beach ridges extending south of the bay is what apple trees like.
I was struck by the ladders ready for the picking crew.  Commercial orchards here are usually picked by groups of migrant workers housed on each farm, often a group that returns year after year.  This particular farm has a group of 8-12 from Mexico who come each year.  They work long hours, but their family at home depends heavily on the income they bring back.

There are hundreds of acres of apples, in more than a dozen different varieties, a huge job to pick.  You can see the lines of trees disappearing in the distance in this photo.  The typical big old heavily pruned apple trees are disappearing now, with a variety of higher density orchards like this one (or much denser), planted and carefully staked.. 

It may take several years for trees to produce a good apple harvest, and they are only in their prime for 10-15 years I've been told, so the replanting of orchards is an ongoing part of the work for commercial apple growers. You can see that every tree here has been well staked; the rows seem to go on as far as the eye can see.

I've been intrigued to learn about the varieties of apples grown.  This is an 'Earligold', nearly ready for picking.  I used to think that an apple was an apple.  Perhaps I came to know about macintosh or spyes through my parents.  We probably buy apples in the stores mainly by price or colour.  But now I realize that each variety tastes different, may be best used in different ways (as in pies vs fresh eating), and stores well for different times.  Different varieties will be ripe in sequence from now until November, so crews will typically be picking mostly one variety at any particular time.  We only buy the apple varieties we enjoy now, and usually from a local producer.

So the crates are all ready and waiting.  Apples will be marketed fresh or for juice.  The next 2-3 months is the time to go and enjoy fresh apples directly from the orchard.  Thanks to Dykstra Orchards for the visit we made last week, and especially the garden tour.


  1. I enjoyed your post. There's a lot more to growing apples than I realized!

  2. I suppose we enjoy a very similar climate that is good for apple trees. There are old orchard and at least half of the volunteer trees around our place are apple trees (seeded mostly by bears by way of their digestive tracks). Most of these trees produce hybrids that are rather woody and not particularly good but there are some gems among them. Out of 10, you will find one that has a very good taste. Most are what would be called cooking apples. They are rather tart but baked with sugar, in a pie or otherwise, they are delicious. I look forward to them each year, but especially this year as there were simply no crop last year. It looks like 2013 will be a good year for apples.

  3. This is my kind of post! Great photos and lots to learn.
    Thanks for visiting. Yes, you should visit the caves. It really is interesting.
    Cheers from Cottage Country!

  4. Good post! We are in apple country out east here too. Just down the road from the original Mcintosh apple tree in Dundela!