The high spring temperatureswe enjoyed smashed Hartford's apple crop.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HARTFORD -- Brian Eucker is growing smaller, uglier apples -- but sweeter ones -- this season.
"They're not pretty this year," the 47-year-old Eucker, owner of Hartford Orchards Inc., said in describing his crop in apple-growing country.
"This is the year that what could happen, did," said Eucker, who bought his father's state Route 7 orchard in 1988.
Eucker spends his days watching over 130 acres of apples and 23 acres of peaches. Only six acres of peaches are doing well this year.
Although it was a mild winter, the apple trees blossomed too early because of the hot spring. His orchard had blossoms by late April.
There were four days of hard frost in May, however. It was the biggest freeze since 1984, Eucker explained.
"This year it got cold, real cold," he said, noting he had grape-size apples by the third week of May. Usually Eucker doesn't see blossoms, let alone apples, until the middle of May.
"You knew it was going to be one of those years," he said, noting apple production was coming off three consecutive record crops.
Eucker, who has an associate degree in agricultural technology from Michigan State University, said the record years saw the price of apples fall to 2 to 3 cents a pound.
This year, he's getting 6 cents per pound but has less to sell for cider making and eventual retail sales.
"It hardly pays the picking cost," Eucker said. He and his wife, Terri, have twin 13-year-old sons, Tyler and Ethan, to support.
As Eucker talked about his crop, he pointed to his trees with few apples toward the bottom and a higher yield toward the top. The difference is because the higher part of the trees is above the frost line.
What made the apples smaller, Eucker explained, is that blossoms come in clusters of five with one designated the "king" by genetics. The "king" produces the largest apple.
However, Eucker said the hard frost this spring killed about 99 percent of those blooms, thus nearly all of his largest fruit.
"The tree just wants to reproduce. It doesn't care if it makes big apples or not," he noted.
As a result, the remaining smaller blossoms grew into fruit, resulting in about 50 percent of a normal crop with smaller apples.
"Anytime you have frost, the yield is down," he said.
Nonetheless, the fruit is sweeter this year because the flavor is more concentrated in the smaller apples.
"What is normal? We wouldn't know normal even if it bit us," Eucker said.
Dave Goerig, the horticulture, agriculture and natural resource agent for the Ohio State University extension office in Mahoning County, said the very dry conditions this summer will definitely affect all crops.
"Most of the reports I've read said the yields will be down, but we won't know how much until harvesting actually begins," he said.
But not all of the effects from a dry summer are bad ones, he added.
In the peach crops of Mahoning County this year, the yield numbers were the same, though the fruits were smaller.
"But they were much sweeter this year," he said.