By ARTHUR CLEVELAND
Standing inside the shop at Sand Flats Orchard, owner Jim Hoffman worked Tuesday with one of his employees on making apple cider doughnuts. Aside from the sound of the fryer and guests out in the field, it was quiet.
Tucker Hernigle, 3, picks an apple Wednesday at Sand Flats Orchard in Fonda as Nicole Hernigle, left, Andrea Hernigle, center, orchard owner Jim Hoffman and Jake Hernigle, right, give him a hand. The Hernigles are from Fultonville. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Hayden Pareene, a first-grader in teacher Marci Carey’s class from Fonda-Fultonville Elementary School, eats an apple cider donut at Sand Flats Orchard in Fonda on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
During the weekends, however, the orchard is abuzz with people coming to pick their own apples, because the trees have produced a big crop this season, Hoffman says.
Local orchards are recovering after frosts and hailstorms devastated the 2012 crop, causing shortages.
According to the New York Apple Association, the state's nearly 700 apple growers are expected to pick 32 million bushels by the time harvest concludes in November. An average year's yield is 29.5 million.
"Our consumers who have been waiting for us to get back into the market after last year's short crop will have lots to celebrate this fall," NYAA President Jim Allen said in a news release.
Last spring, nighttime temperatures reached freezing, destroying the crop for the 2012 season before it had a time to grow. The effects of this were felt by many local orchards.
"Last year, I probably lost 75 to 80 percent of my crop," said Edward Pavlus, owner of Pavlus Orchard in Fort Plain.
Hoffman was hit harder.
"We had a complete wipeout last year," he said. "It was about May 10 or 12 last year, and I will tell you, we were scared this year. 2012 was one of the worst growing years I can remember."
"Mother Nature dealt us a double whammy with three frost periods during the bloom and then a 15-minute hailstorm in July," said Kenneth Coyne, owner of Bellinger's Orchard in Fultonville.
Many New York orchard owners reported having to buy apples from out of state to sell to their customers.
Allen said this year's crops are doing well, however.
"We didn't just recover from last year, we roared back and more," Allen said in a release.
Orchards in the local area have been reporting a good crop this year.
"During the bloom period, the trees looked like straggly white teddy bears as they were covered with flowers. The trees are loaded with fruit to the extent that we have some branches breaking," Coyne said.
Hoffman said his farm has sold roughly 3,000 to 4,000 bushels so far this year.
"After having no apples, this was a great thing," he said.
According to Pavlus, around 1,000 bushels of apples have been sold so far at his orchard.
Pavlus said he was pleased with this season, and he hopes it will help the orchard recover.
"Well, more than previous years, double last year's crop," Pavlus said. "... We will be somewhat in the black."
According to many growers, the resilience of the trees is responsible for this year's yield.
"There was no frost period on record, and the orchard was full of trees that had stored reserves ready to produce this year," Coyne said.
Hoffman said weather and water are not the only parts of the equation. He said apple trees, after a bad year, will sometimes bounce back, producing many more apples the following year.
"There was a potential of an overabundance of apples this year," Hoffman said. "We experience a good crop, but not a great crop."
Hoffman said he has done some frost-prevention this year, mostly by lighting warming fires in the field during the blooming period, hoping to prevent the crop from failing again.
"We had about 20 fires going in the orchard on May 12," Hoffman said.
Repeat customers are key to keeping orchards in business, owners said.
"We have had five generations of some family members here at once. Repeat customers are the core of our business. At times this past Sunday, we had abnormally high volume [of guests]," Coyne said.
Kathy Van Nostrand, who went to Sand Flats with her family Tuesday, said it's a yearly tradition, and she was pleased to see the good crop.
"It feels wonderful," Van Nostrand said. "... Even my older kids look forward to it."
Van Nostrand said she loves using locally grown apples for pies, along with an opportunity to take photos of her grandkids.
"I take a lot of pictures," Van Nostrand confessed.
Arthur Cleveland can be reached at email@example.com.