By CHRISTINA O'HAVER
The Union Democrat
Fruit stands in the Mother Lode are piling up with apples, as area orchards reach the halfway point of a decent apple season.
While the extended summer heat reduced the size of apples and pushed harvest back slightly, autumn temperatures above freezing levels have benefitted production, according to orchardists.
"You want your summer and fall season to be extended so you can get everything harvested," said Lloyd Bunch, who operates the Red Apple orchard in Murphys.
The cooler weather across the Mother Lode this week should help the sugaring and coloring of the apples, while the rain will provide water for the trees, said Cover's Apple Ranch owner Ben Cover.
Storms can be problematic if they are accompanied by wind, which can knock apples to the ground, or followed by a frost, Bunch said.
Cover's Apple Ranch in Tuolumne is now harvesting winesap, red and golden delicious and Rome beauty apples.
The Red Apple is harvesting Fuji, Rome beauty and red delicious apples. The varieties will join Jonagold, Jonathan, McIntosh, empire, golden delicious and winesap apples on the stands.
Bunch said they kicked off the harvest season in early September by picking gala apples and will wrap up harvest with pink lady, crimson winesap and Arkansas black apples.
Cover described apples as low maintenance crops, requiring pruning in the winter and water in the summer before harvest in the fall.
However, hail or frost can be detrimental to apples. If temperatures dip into the low 30s and linger for more than 12 hours, there is little orchardists can do to protect the fruit, according to Cover.
He said late spring frost is the reason there are few apple orchards in the Sierra foothills, which is otherwise a great location for growing the produce.
Bunch said the Mother Lode used to be a prime spot for growing apples until housing developments replaced orchards over the years.
The Red Apple's orchard spans about six or seven acres of land, but when apples were first planted on the farm in the early 1900s, the orchard covered about 30 acres. Over the years, land was sold to developers and homes were built on it.
But even after downsizing, the Red Apple is still home to several varieties of apples which can be used to make a wide range of ciders, pastries, applesauce and jams.
"That's the unique thing about apples is (they're) very versatile," Bunch said.
Bunch said different apples lend themselves to certain uses. One of the reasons for the bakery on the farm is to reclaim apples that have been bruised, which don't sell on the fruit stand but still make great pies and other goods.
"It's not a fantastic year but we've got lots of apples," Cover said.