It’ll be a stretch: Gerald Venne picks part of the small crop of apples at Tuttle Orchards. Staff photo by Arika Herron
It’ll be a stretch: Gerald Venne picks part of the small crop of apples at Tuttle Orchards. Staff photo by Arika Herron
GREENFIELD — A favorite fall pastime in Hancock County has been canceled this year thanks to the extreme weather.

But it’s not the record heat and drought that doomed the apple crop at Tuttle Orchards. It was a series of frosty nights in spring that literally nipped the crop in the bud.

For decades, picking apples at Tuttle’s has been tradition for hundreds of families who take to seemingly endless rows of apple trees and pull jewel-toned fruit straight from branches in crisp autumn air.

This year, only employees will pull fruit from the trees, hauling in this year’s crop – or what’s left of it. Tuttle’s does not have a large enough crop to support the annual u-pick activity.

Owner Ruth Ann Roney said Tuttle’s has lost more than 80 percent of its crop. She said that while enough apples can be salvaged to stock the store, there won’t be enough to allow for apple picking.

“This is one of the years where you just have to be thankful for the good years,” Roney said.

Roney said the store is currently working with other orchards to bring in additional apples to meet demand as apple season, which generally starts in September, approaches.

“We’ll definitely have apples in the store, and plenty of them,” she said. “They just won’t necessarily be from here.”

Finding apples from anywhere in the Midwest is tricky right now. A late freeze in mid-April struck orchards from the Mississippi River to New York State, devastating crops.

Peter Hirst, professor of horticulture at Purdue University, said the effects of the freeze were unprecedented in scope and degree of destruction.

“We haven’t seen crop loss to this extent across the state in well over 50 years,” he said.

Hirst said a few orchards throughout the region were spared and have managed strong crops; others have suffered total losses.

Though all of the varieties at Tuttle’s have been affected to some degree, Roney said she feels lucky to have anything left.

“We’re blessed,” she said. “Some people don’t have anything.”

Fruit crops were particularly susceptible to damage during a late freeze this year because the mild winter fooled most vegetation into emerging ahead of schedule.

Roy Ballard, Hancock County Purdue Extension educator, said locally flora and fauna was advanced by two or three weeks from normal.

“It was a one-two punch,” Ballard said. “Everything was advanced, and then we had the freeze. There were apples actually on the trees already.”

Roney said some varieties were still in the blooming phase while other trees were already sprouting small fruits – neither of which could withstand temperatures that dropped into the 20s.

Much of the surviving fruit has been damaged and is stunted or scarred with unsightly freeze rings on the flesh.

Employee Gerald Venne, who was picking Monday through trees that are normally reserved for the public, said much of the meager crop will have to be used for cider.

According to the Purdue-based Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service, Indiana’s average 26 million-pound apple crop ranks 20th in the country.

Washington state produces about half of country’s apples. Hirst said Washington is on track for a strong crop. Hirst urges families to not let this year’s poor crop keep them from keeping up with tradition.

“There is still some fruit around, and growers are buying fruit in,” he said. “People should still visit their local farms.”

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