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Bayfield apple crop is ‘best in years’

The apple harvest is one of the best in years. (File / News Tribune)

Kate Weber-Smith isn’t quite sure how it worked out this way, but the apple harvest on Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula is the best in years.

That’s despite a harsh winter that saw some fruit trees killed off by the cold, a cold and wet spring that saw late blossoms, and a delay in the summer growing season.

“It’s kind of a miracle considering the weather we had,” Weber-Smith said. “But the apples are big and beautiful and there are lots of them.

“They were a good week behind (reaching maturity). We usually can open on Labor Day weekend, but we didn’t have any apples to sell. But a week later, the early varieties started coming and now all of them are coming in bigger and better than we’ve seen in several years,” Weber-Smith said.

 Weber Orchards, off Wisconsin Highway 13 south of Bayfield, has more than 1,200 apple and pear trees. Pickers are busy now as the harvest reaches its peak, into the first week of October.

Weber-Smith said Cortland and Macintosh apples did especially well, but that most of their dozen varieties ended up large and tasty.

The harvest is just in time, of course, for Bayfield’s 53rd annual Applefest, the city’s celebration of all things apple next weekend that regularly draws upwards of 40,000 people.

While apples somehow recovered thanks to ample rain and sunlight in late summer, many of the Weber’s pear trees did not.

“We lost a lot of pear trees just because of how cold it got last winter,’’ Weber-Smith said. “So we have far fewer pears than normal. The ones we have are very good, but we don’t have the numbers.”

Claudia Ferraro at Apple Hill Orchards gave a similar report.

“The apple trees for some reason must have loved that cold winter. Bur out cheery trees didn’t, they got hammered,’’ Ferraro said.

Apple Hill Orchards has 800 apple and 800 cheery trees outside Bayfield and cherry production “was probably down 60 percent or more. But apples are up,” Ferrarosaid.

“We’ve been doing this 31 years and this is about as good as we’ve seen the apple crop. They are big and red and juicy,’’ Feraro said. “We’re picking as fast as we can.”

Missy Morin at Bayfield Apple Company said their cherry trees also took a major hit.

“We had to plow under two rows of cherry trees that died due to the cold winter,’ she said, noting that’s about one-fourth of their cherry orchard. “The apples started late. They’re about 10 days to two weeks behind, but they are really nice. The nicest for us in at least three years.”

With the late start to the harvest, Morin said pickers are working “like crazy” on the orchard’s 70 acres, trying to get enough apples for Applefest. She said the cold winter appears to have killed off some of the pests that harm apple trees. That, she said, and the heavy winter snow and wet spring helped keep apple trees well watered.

“Some of the trees are just dripping with apples,’’ she said. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”