BENNINGTON -- Apple harvests are finally falling from over-laden trees in southern Vermont this year, after a widely unfruitful yield the previous season.
Orchards in Bennington County are welcoming the seasonally appropriate cool weather, which adds to the texture and flavor of the apples.
"Unusually warm weather in March last year accelerated the trees by several weeks," said Rob LaPorte, orchard manager of Terry's Orchard in Bennington, recalling several days in a row above 70 degrees.
Higher than average temperatures seen too early in the season can be damaging to apple crops when the trees begin to blossom before any last frosts have come and gone.
"When you're going to have a good year things progress in a normal warming increase," said LaPorte, 60, who has grown apples for nearly forty years.
Formerly a commercial apple farm, Terry's Orchard is now a pick-your-own location, with more than a dozen varieties grown on their 16 acres.
"We offer the real experience," LaPorte said. "Picking apples is a piece of Americana - it's a family thing." MacIntosh, Empire, Red Max and winter-keeping apples including Northern Spy and Ida Red can be found at Terry's Orchard, located at the top of Harwood Hill and Route 7 on Houghton Lane.
"This is such a unique place," said Bruce Weinfurt, who often lends a hand on the orchard by trimming trees in the winter, pressing fresh cider for the busy weekends and assisting his wife Mary in making homemade pies, canned goods and strawberry applesauce.
"Rob's probably one of the best in the state at what he does," said Weinfurt of LaPorte, whose wife Paula operates the farm stand. "People call almost every day to ask him questions and pick his brain about their apples." One of the most popular varieties in recent years has been the Honeycrisp, which are sold pre-picked along with Cortland, Macoun and others at The Apple Barn and Bake Shop in Bennington.
"The apple crop is phenomenal this year," in terms of both yield and flavor, said Marie Walk, who has worked at the Apple Barn for more than 16 years.
"It's much busier than last year," Walk said. "There is more local traffic and the tour buses have started coming." Groups from as far away as Pennsylvania and Ohio visit the bakery and gift shop, sometimes with passengers from Australia or Europe who enjoy touring New England in autumn, according to Walk. Fruit sold at the barn is locally harvested from Southern Vermont Orchards.
At Scott Farm in Dummerston, apples are grown and distributed to over 50 regional co-ops and farm stands.
Orchard Manager Zeke Goodband estimates "a couple million apples," are produced each year on the farm - or enough to fill two dozen tractor-trailer trucks.
With more than 5,000 trees on 40 acres, Scott Farm specializes in growing older varieties of apples that are becoming harder to find. With names like "Blue Pearmain," "Cox's Orange Pippin" and "Wolf River," heirloom apples can round out the selections offered at smaller orchards and farm stands.
"Most of our crop stays here in Vermont," said Goodband, who has worked on the farm for over 13 years. Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, which specializes in growing certified organic vegetables, purchases Scott Farm apples because of their ‘low-spray' policy.
"It's very hard to find a low pesticide option," said Brad Peacock, 33, a farm manager at Clear Brook. "They seem to be one of the best around, and they have an amazing selection," he said of the supplier.
This weekend the apple season will come to a close early on the farm, so that workers can focus on finishing the growing season for crops shares intended for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members.
This year Peacock expects as many as 200 in attendance, more than double last year's number. "It's a little bit different this year because we are raffling off a poet shack," he said.
A fundraiser to benefit Carol Adinolfi, local health-food chef and poet, who recently underwent a stem cell transplant and is currently in remission from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, the day will feature "simple, healthy, beautiful and delicious food" from local cooks and farmers.
Event organizer Amy Anselmo said the idea came for the poet shack many months ago, in part because of Adinolfi's own interest in poetry.
A one-room creative oasis, the poet ‘shack' is more a colorful, crochet-wrapped artwork that is sturdy enough to house creative endeavors throughout the year.
The fifth annual Ciderfest will be held Saturday, from 2-8 p. m. , and include lively bluegrass music by John Gillette and Sarah Mittlefehldt, fresh pressed apple cider, potluck dinner, bonfire and poetry readings throughout the day. "It's a true hoe-down, that's what it is," Anselmo said. "It's the end of the season."
The raffle drawing will take place at 6 p. m. , tickets are still available; cost is $30 each or 4 for $100.
Terry's Orchard is open Mon. to Fri., 1 - 5 p. m., Sat. and Sun., 9 a. m. - 5 p. m., weather permitting. Call 802-558-0334 for more information.