Labor Day weekend kicks off the season of apple and pumpkin picking and fun fall activities until Halloween. However, for one local orchard, they may not make it through the season.
Echo Hill Orchards and Winery in Monson, MA has experienced more than their fair share of struggles over the course of the last six months.
“Our apple season may be shorter than last year, but the cold spring weather had more to do with that than the drought” said Richard J. Krupczak, the orchard’s owner.
A frost in early April nearly devastated their apple crop but they remained hopeful and watched the trees slowly grow over the next few months.
The drought is impacting the apples in size more than ever before.
Apples are much smaller than usual, premature apples are falling to the ground due to the stress of the dry conditions at Echo Hill.
According to the United States Drought Monitor, the area has expanded to an extreme drought over the last six months, resulting with 50 to 60 percent of normal rainfall. Because of the latest data, fall activities are expected to be much shorter than normal.
Echo Hill Orchards and Winery rely mainly on the weather such as rainfall to grow their crops for the fall season. With the lack of rain, they will unfortunately be forced to shorten their season. They grow apples, pumpkins, watermelons and peaches. The unfortunate dryness has taken its toll on Echo Hills’ peach crop, which has not set well with the orchard and the drought.
When asked how the apple crop has fared, Krupczak said that “some varieties of apples did not set well such as the Cortland’s which were affected the worst versus the Macintosh which are abundant. Some varieties unfortunately are sparse which makes picking reasonably difficult.”
They did verify that although the drought has provided a shortened season, their prices are not affected. They will have to offer less bag sizes as the season progresses.
Echo Hill has created a positive side to their woes by grabbing the premature apples that have fallen and are selling them to local farmers for their livestock.
The drought has taken enough from Massachusetts and the Krupczak family is not letting it stop them from fulfilling a great season for New Englanders. They do have a plan to keep the season a bit longer by offering only 4 bag sizes and stopping the sales of their bulk bags in order to allow picking for a longer period of time.
The owner has stated this has worked well in the past and will continue to do as planned to keep traditions alive in New England. “Our customers have been affected the most I feel, but I am trying to make sure they are satisfied rather than disappointed” stated Krupczak when asked how he believed this has affected his customers. One local and loyal picker has been coming to Echo Hill Orchard and Winery for as long as he can remember. Jason Weber, 34 says that “It is a family tradition to come here and I have chosen to continue the tradition with my wife and as long as we are able to, our children will come here as well.”
Weber did mention the crop was different this year than it has been years prior but that did not stop him from continuing his tradition. He even showed off his delicious apple pie that was made from those apples in which he stated was, “one of the best he has ever made.” He did notice a difference this year in the prematurity of some apples which he had hoped made it through the drought and cold spring, however, he was disappointed.
Through the disappointment was a sound of relief because he was grateful he was able to come back to the orchard that he loves. Richard Krupczak felt the very same when he was asked the very same question. “We are grateful to be able to open once again for our patrons, knowing many of our fellow orchard owners are unable to allow pickers this season,” he said.
It seems that although the drought has affected this orchard for both the owner and patrons, they both have found a positive side. Krupczak has stated, “I will be open this season for as long as I am able to and will open each season for as long as the weather allows me to.” Weber said, “I will continue coming to Echo Hill until I can’t anymore. I trust that the owners know what they are doing and as long as they are open, I will be a customer.”