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Posted: 07/23/14



WINTER WOES. Above, Paul Blake of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill checks a honeycrisp apple tree. Local orchards like Blake's are reporting their apple crops are doing well, but their peach crops are low this year due to the harsh winter weather. Local orchards are shipping in peaches from other Michigan growers. At right is a row full of dead or dying peach trees at Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill. Local orchards are reporting a lighter peach crop due to this past winter's freezing temperatures.

(Observer photos by Chris Gray)

Orchards report slim
pickings for peaches

Cold winter weather to blame for low yield

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Orchards in the greater Romeo area have lost most, if not all, of their peach crops due to the devastating winter, but expect a great apple crop this year.
       This winter set records for the most snowfall since 1880, but also brought with it 10 days that were below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the Detroit area. Stone fruits like peaches, cherries and plums are susceptible to temperatures below -10 degrees.
       With roughly five events recorded below that threshold this winter, growers are experiencing small yields. Spring didn't offer much better conditions for them either, as it caused the growing season to fall behind by about two weeks.
       At Westview Orchards, co-owner Katrina Schumacher said after realizing buds and blossoms weren't appearing, they knew there would be no peaches this year and had to cancel any u-pick for the fruit.
       "Not only have we lost this year's crop, but some of the older trees couldn't take it either," she said.
       For cherries, she said they could only offer u-pick for the first four days after opening. Apples, however, are looking to be above average. She said cooler days like those experienced last week have been good for ripening up the apples.
       "We're hoping by mid-August to have Paula reds available, then go into Galas," she said. "We're going to have a real good crop."
       Paul Blake, co-owner of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill, said like Westview they won't offer u-pick peaches this year due to the small yield.
       "There are barely any peaches around the area, particularly for us," he said. "It was a challenging winter."
       Even so, he said the apple crop is looking to be on par with normal growing seasons. He said this is good because last year's crop was above average, which normally means the following year will be lighter.
       "There is plenty of moisture, so the apples are sizing up very well," he said. "The apple crop is a shining star for us looking forward."
       David Friezli, manager of Verellen Orchards, said the orchard didn't escape the cold weather unscathed, but is faring well. He said most of the peach crop was destroyed and some of the plums were damaged, but otherwise cherries are doing fairly well.
       "We actually took some clippings off the trees and brought them inside to see if they would blossom, but when they were having trouble with not blossoming we started to prepare for the worst," he said.
       He said the orchard's grapes, apples and pears are all coming along fine, and expects an average apple crop this year. He is optimistic that next year's peach harvest will be good so long as Mother Nature cooperates.
       "We lost a few of the old trees, but they were on their way out," he said. "We'll hopefully have a real good crop next year."
       Despite the losses, people can still buy Michigan-grown peaches at the local orchards. Each of the orchards is shipping in peaches from locations like Grand Rapids that didn't suffer the losses seen in southeast Michigan to provide the fuzzy fruit.
       "We'll still have peaches for the Peach Festival," Friezli said.
       The orchards are leaning on other avenues for revenue and development aside their fruit crops. Blake's Orchard is remodeling its cider mill and selling its hard cider and wine, while Westview Orchards is in the final stages of producing and selling its own wine.
       Miller's Big Red Cider Mill is among those branching out. Jeff Mulholland, a partner at Miller's, said like other orchards they have to bring in peaches and cherries from elsewhere.
       "It's kind of tough with Peach Fest going on," he said.
       The orchard, however, is in the midst of making hard cider, and is opening a juicing company in Mount Clemens with Garden Fresh Salsa, where Mulholland expects to use half a million pounds of apples each month.
       "We have some significant contracts with large retailers, so we're actually building a rather large state-of-the-art facility," he said.
      


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