Local apple growers are enjoying an abundant crop that is more than double last year's harvest in some orchards.
The plentiful crop has not meant lower apple prices -- some sellers have even increased their cider prices by 25 to 50 cents a gallon. But apple lovers will benefit from this year's dry weather, which is allowing them to partakeof the good harvest earlier than usual.
Fenby Moore, co-owner of Larriland Farm in Woodbine, has accelerated his pick-your-own schedule by about two weeks.
"I'd say it's going to be an excellent fall harvest season," he said.
Red and yellow delicious apples, which usually are picked in mid- to late-September, began coming off the trees the second week in September, while Stayman Winesap and Ida red, normally picked in mid- to late-October, will be available for picking this weekend, Moore said.
Granny Smiths will probably be ready by the last week of this month.
The harvest is expected to supply a much-needed boost to local apple growersafter last year's poor growing season, which fell victim to a springfreeze and late-summer storm.
"We've had an excellent apple crop this year, partially because we had no late freezes," which tend to kill apple blossoms, said Scott Aker, urban agriculture agent for the service.
The dry summer, which hurt many county field crops, caused apple trees to grow fewer leaves and more apples and kept diseases and insects to a minimum, he said.
But cider apple prices are still high compared with two years ago, said Tom Owens, owner of the Cider Mill in Ellicott City, who can only grow about one-fourth of the apples he needs to produce the many thousands of gallons the mill sellsin a year.
The mill sells gallons for $3.75, up 50 cents from last year, with 15 cents off if the customer provides the jug. Apple prices remain at last year's levels, from $8 to $14 a half-bushel, depending on quality.
The nearby Baugher farm, which presses its applesat the mill, raised its cider price by a quarter, to $3.50, because of an increase in the pressing price. Apple prices there are also thesame as last year's, at $8 a half-bushel.
Like other apple farmers in the county, Jimmy and Russell Baugher sell much of what they harvest directly to the public.
"It was a very slim crop last year," with only a 20 percent to
25 percent apple and peach harvest, saidJimmy Baugher's wife, Joan.
"This year we've got maybe 75-80 percent, but they are a little smaller due to the dry summer," she said. This year's crop "seems to have a better taste this year. Everyone has been saying that."
The Baughers harvest apples from 100 good-sized trees on their 75-year-old fruit orchard off New Cut Road in Ellicott City. They take the apples to their roadside market at Montgomeryand New Cut roads.
The fruit stand prices for local apples average about 38 cents a pound, compared with about 99 cents a pound in supermarkets.
In the western end of the county, the dry year was costlier for the Moores because they had to irrigate their 12 acres of apple trees, but the return is a 95-percent crop, compared with last year's 75 percent crop, Fenby
But the Moores have notchanged their prices, selling pre-picked apples for $9 a bushel and cider for $3.50 a gallon.
Farmers say the drought conditions make apples smaller, less colorful and less juicy, but the lack of water also makes them tastier.
Jimmy Baugher said he has noticed that this year's apples are not as red as they have been in wetter years, butAker said colder nights could help bring out the color in the water-deprived fruit.
Apples amount to only about 2 percent of the county's agricultural acreage, but orchards such as the Cider Mill and Larriland Farm also do a tidy business in providing such fall activitiesas hayrides and pumpkin-patch-picking.
APPLE FARMS AND MARKETS:
Baugher's Fruit Stand, New Cut Road near Montgomery Road. 465-7053 or 465-3146
Cider Mill Farm, 5012 Landing Road, Elkridge. 788-9595
German's Orchard (limited supply of apples, no cider) Route 144 and Cemetery Lane, Ellicott City. 465-4557
Larriland Farm, 2415 Route 94, Woodbine. 442-2605 or 854-6110
Sharp Farm, 3779 Sharp Road, Glenwood. 489-4630
Nixon's Farm, 2800 Route 32, W. Friendship. 442-2151