When the frost is on the apple

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From left, Rachel Harrison and Hannah Nelson

Local orchards suffered losses in apple crop, but will continue fall festivities.

The bite of frost in April this year caused an incomparable loss of apples, but local apple orchards and stores will still be selling the iconic fall fruit and hosting festivities.

Stuckey Farm owner Jeff Pierce said the trees there bloomed early this year due to the abnormally warm February and March. But then the chill of April came back to bite the blooms.

Apple orchards had to buy from other states that did not suffer the loss. Stuckey Farm, located at 19975 Hamilton-Boone County Line Rd., Sheridan, has shipped in a majority of apples from eastern Pennsylvania and some from Illinois.

Spencer Farms in Noblesville does not have u-pick apples, but usually buys produce from Garwood Orchards in LaPorte, Ind. Mike Garwood, one of the owners of the orchard, said about 20 to 25 percent of their crop survived the frost, though he is still shipping in apples from Colorado or Idaho.

The Indiana State Dept. of Agriculture said it does not yet have numbers on apple orchard production for this year. Garwood made an estimated guess that Indiana usually produces two million bushels a year, but this year may only have produced less than 100,000 bushels.

Lisa Gipson, who has worked at Stuckey Farm for the past 15 years, said this year was very rare. She said in the past Stuckey Farm may have brought in different varieties of apples that were unavailable to them, but she had never experienced a loss like this year.

Yet in spite of the frost in April, the Stuckey Farm still is making its famed apple cider from imported apples. It will be sold in stores such as Gatewood’s in Noblesville, Lilly Orchard in Indianapolis and the IGA in Sheridan, Lebanon and Thorntown.

“It still tastes the same,” said Pierce. “We are just borrowing apples from other orchards.”

Gatewood Vegetable Farm and Greenhouses has been buying The Stuckey Farm apple cider for more than 30 years. Bruce Gatewood, the son of owners Bill and Nancy, is now the manager of the business. He remembers visiting The Stuckey Farm with his father to pick up their cider order as a child.

Gatewood Vegetable Farm buys the apples sold in-store from an orchard in northern Indiana. This year Gatewood ordered apples as early as April in order to get a part in the apple crop.

“We knew it was going to be short since it was warm too long [in February],” Gatewood said.

Many businesses that sell apples also sell pumpkins. The pumpkins at Stuckey Farm are doing marvelously well this year. Stuckey Farm has 10 acres of u-pick pumpkins that are “looking great” and could possibly be the best Pierce has seen in eight years.

Unfortunately for Gatewood Vegetable Farm, the pumpkin weigh-in, which they have hosted for the past 16 years, will not be hosted at their store this year. It has been moved to northern Indiana.

The local orchards and produce stores faced incredible loss this year in the apple crop, but the festivities will continue throughout the fall.

Stuckey Farm will continue selling pumpkins and apples as well as hosting events throughout October: hayrides, readings of James Whitcomb Riley poetry and Flashlight Night in its corn maze. Gatewood Vegetable Farm will also be selling apples, pumpkins and Stuckey cider. Spencer Farms will have hayrides through the pumpkin patch. Homemade fudge, Garwood apples and other goodies will be available as well.

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