Warm weather this spring means local growers will have plenty of apples to sell during the next couple of months.
The next few weeks could wrap up one of the best apple crops in recent years for Douglas County, officials said Wednesday.
Production is up this year, thanks to early-spring warmth that opened an extended and fruitful growing season across the area, said Bruce Chladny, the county's horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension.
As fruit stands open and local residents set up appointments for picking fruit at local orchards, growers are optimistic for success in an agricultural niche that is anything but stable. An entire crop can be wiped out by an early freeze, a prospect virtually erased this season by Mother Nature.
"This year, across the board, for fruit trees we've had a bumper crop because we had such mild temperatures this spring," Chladny said. "It warmed up and it stayed warm."
Fewer than a dozen farmers run apple-growing operations in the Lawrence area, and those who do often draw a committed following. Some sell from roadside stands, while others run pick-your-own operations or set up shop during downtown's Farmers Market.
David Vertacnik, for one, is hoping for a record year at his half-acre orchard east of town, where he has grown Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples for the past 18 years. He plans to start picking in a couple weeks.
While his Jonathans have fallen victim to disease, his 25 Red Delicious trees are producing bigger, brighter and more plentiful fruit than ever.
"They're amazing this year," he said. "Every time I go out there it just amazes me."
Through November he hopes more than 150 people will drop by his place off old Kansas Highway 10, east of the East Hills Business Park and south of Bishop Seabury Academy. Occasionally he brings in more than $1,000 from apple sales, a take he hopes to repeat.
Donna Taylor, whose Taylor Orchard boasts nine varieties of apples from 400 trees on five acres a mile east of Stull, is looking to take in about $5,000 this year, which would be slightly above average.
"It could've been a great year, if we didn't get so much hail damage," said Taylor, who figures half her crop was blemished by hail this spring. "Because of the hail, we'll have a lot of extra cider. Other than that, it's been one of the better years."
Frost bit crops in the area last year, leaving Taylor with a $3,000 year and one Eudora farmer with barely enough fruit for a single apple pie. This year will be different, though, as producers who remained vigilant about staving off disease, fighting off insects and knocking off fruits from overloaded trees are looking forward to good news in the weeks ahead.
"The peach trees and the pear trees and the plum trees all did wonderfully this year," said Chladny, who works with local growers. "Same for the apples. They were able to bloom, bear fruit and grow normally without many problems."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is email@example.com.