"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
But in some parts of northwest Iowa an early spring frost killed a lot of blossoms on apple trees causing many trees to have reduced numbers of apples, especially on the early varieties. As if the frost wasn't hard enough to get through, some producers also experienced damaging hail damage when the apples were quite small. The hail stunted growth on apples that were struck.
In Cherokee, the Lunquist Orchard was hit pretty hard. Their trees only produced about half of their normal crop. "We are almost out of apples because of the low numbers of apples produced," said Ron Ricketts.
This year the orchard had to reduce the numbers of employees - from a five person staff to a two person crew.
Community Orchard in Fort Dodge, the area's largest orchard, reported minimal damage. Most of the frost hit south of Highway 30, they said, allowing for a fairly normal harvest and brisk business, despite some losses of fruit.
Greg Baedke, the manager of the Community Orchard said, "We had a pretty decent crop. Certain crops took the low temperatures worse than others. In a few cases, they may be down to half production."
The later varieties weren't affected, like the Red Delicious. "About half of our apples will be picked in October," Baedke said.
He's confident that the Red Delicious will yield a full crop. Unlike many of the local orchards, the Community Orchard has other things to fall back on like their gift shop, bakery and restaurant. Applefest is the first weekend in October where Greg says, "there are hay rides out to the pumpkin patch and games for the kids."
The Hillside Orchard in Newell was hurt by the frost and hail but they are not completely down and out. They still have a lot of apples.
Owner Bruce Nieland told, "Some of our early varieties were damaged and we were down to half crop. Some of the apples were hurt so badly from the hail that they just let them drop to the ground since there was nothing to salvage. " Hillside Orchard has over 900 trees and a good portion of later varieties.
Some varieties are running a little low, however, and consumers may want to grab their apples soon. Robin and Bruce Nieland are looking for a good Red Delicious crop and will plan on heavy pruning this year. "We had a lot of damage but there is nothing we can do," Bruce said. "We just move on and hope for a better year next year." Like the Lundquist Orchard in Cherokee the Hillside Orchard doesn't have anything to fall back on. They do however, give quite a few tours to school kids and groups. The Nielands are hoping for a mild fall after it frosts, since the Red Delicious apples are harvested after the frost, which brings out the sugars in the fruit. Last year it was only mild for a short time and then the snow stopped the harvest. Snow storms in March imade four to five foot drifts in the orchards, making pruning very difficult in the spring.
In the orchard business, however, hope takes root anew with each season.
"It's ok, we'll be alright," Bruce said.