Apple growers preparing for hurricane

Lee West, left, of Detroit, a seasonal worker at Maine-ly Apples, was busy Friday picking and sorting apples such as these Jerseymacs off the outside branches of some of the 1650 apples trees at the 17-acre orchard in Dixmont. The Olsen family and their crew there are concerned that many of the orchard's apples could be susceptible to the winds that Hurricane Irene might bring on Sunday.
Lee West, left, of Detroit, a seasonal worker at Maine-ly Apples, was busy Friday picking and sorting apples such as these Jerseymacs off the outside branches of some of the 1650 apples trees at the 17-acre orchard in Dixmont. The Olsen family and their crew there are concerned that many of the orchard's apples could be susceptible to the winds that Hurricane Irene might bring on Sunday.
Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 6:27 p.m.
Lee West, left, of Detroit, a seasonal worker at Maine-ly Apples, was busy Friday picking apples such as these Jerseymacs off the outside branches of some of the 1650 apples trees at the 17-acre orchard in Dixmont. Jon Olsen (seen on right),  co-owner of Maine-ly Apples in Dixmont,  and his crew are concerned that many of the orchard's apples could be susceptible to the winds that Hurricane Irene might bring on Sunday.
Lee West, left, of Detroit, a seasonal worker at Maine-ly Apples, was busy Friday picking apples such as these Jerseymacs off the outside branches of some of the 1650 apples trees at the 17-acre orchard in Dixmont. Jon Olsen (seen on right), co-owner of Maine-ly Apples in Dixmont, and his crew are concerned that many of the orchard's apples could be susceptible to the winds that Hurricane Irene might bring on Sunday.

Apple orchards around the state are doing what they can to prepare for Hurricane Irene, but there may not be much they can do.

“I don’t know what preparations we can do,” said Mildred Levesque, who operates Mil-Del Farm in Plymouth with her husband, Delmar. “If a big wind comes up, I don’t know how you would prepare for something like that except pray.”

It’s still too early in the season for apple varieties such as McIntosh to be picked. Some growers are working to get other ripe apples off the trees.

“We’re lightly picking our early McIntosh and William’s Pride and getting ones off the edges we can — the ones that are ripe,” said John Olsen, co-owner of Maine-ly Apples of Dixmont. “The rest aren’t anywhere near ripe.”

With the path of the hurricane being a moving target, some growers don’t want to do too much.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” said Heather Davis, manager of Cayford Orchard in Skowhegan. “If you go out there and pick everything and let’s say the weatherman’s wrong, then you’re screwed that way, because the apples aren’t even ready. We’ll take it as it comes and hope it’s not that bad.”

Dr. Renae Moran, secretary of the Maine State Pomological Society, wasn’t worried much about the McIntosh apples.

“I’ve been trying to pull apples off the trees. I think they’ll make it through the storm,” said Moran.

The apples themselves aren’t the biggest worry for the orchard owners. Trees could be knocked over in high winds.

“A few apples to the ground would be fine by me as long as I’m not losing trees and branches,” said Davis. “We’re talking about years’ worth of growth. These branches are 20 to 30 years old. You’ll never get that production back in a year.”

Davis and her husband, Jason, are placing props against the tree trunks to prevent them from toppling.

“My husband is putting props at the trunks to try to keep them upright with the winds and pray nothing breaks off or falls,” said Davis. “It’s hard for this time of the year because we’re so close to harvest. The trees are holding a lot of weight on them now.”

Because of recent rain, the ground is soft. It may only get worse with heavy rains from Irene.

“Soft ground, shallow soil, unsupported trees and strong winds can blow them over, especially when they’re top-heavy with apples,” said Moran.

Storer Demerchant, who operates Harris Orchard in Brewer, wasn’t very worried about his crop.

“We don’t get hit real hard with winds because we have big maple and oak trees around us [to shield from the wind],” said Demerchant.

Maine-ly Apples in Dixmont and Skowhegan’s Cayford Orchard will open to the public for the season on Saturday.

Most area growers are taking the storm in stride.

“That’s why we farm. It’s always a challenge and it’s never a boring job,” said Davis.

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