Food & Farming

Why are Some Rhode Island Apples so Small this Season?


Apples for sale at Phantom Farms in Cumberland. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Severe drought conditions that lasted through most of the summer took a bite out of some local orchards’ harvest, producing smaller apples than past seasons.

Jan Eckhart, owner of Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, said his orchard grew smaller, more flavorful apples this year after low rainfall in July and August. The weather impacted Empire and Macoun apples the most, he said.

“Some of them didn’t size up,” he said, adding that “they ripened a little bit earlier, so the season was earlier than usual.”

The dry weather hasn’t just impacted apples: drought can affect a number of fall features, including turning leaves earlier in the season or ruining seasonal harvests. And as climate change causes more extreme weather in Rhode Island, oscillating between extreme precipitation and drought, farmers will have to try to work around recurring problems.

Eckhart said his orchard doesn’t have an irrigation system and this summer’s weather made him nervous that his harvest might not survive, but heavy soil was the key to making it through.

John Steere’s apples at Steere Orchard in Smithfield did a little bit better.

“We fared pretty well with the drought,” Steere said. “When it was really hot and dry, a few apples started to drop a little bit.” Despite a few casualties, this season’s apples were still big, he said.

Steere also doesn’t irrigate his orchard, which sits on top of a hill, but like at Sweet Berry, some heavy soil made a huge difference. 

Last weekend, Steere even opened a new section of the orchard for visitors to pick their own apples.

Emily Alexander, a baker at Phantom Farms in Cumberland, said the dry season not only created smaller apples for her pastries, but it also brought more bees into the orchards, which can be good and bad.

The bees pollinate the apples, but sometimes also sting the pickers.

Phantom Farms warned customers about the tiny insects and small apples, but Alexander said she hadn’t heard any complaints, just that the apple pastries had been baking a little faster.

Colleen Cronin is a Report for America corps member who writes about environmental issues in rural Rhode Island for ecoRI News.


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