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Spring meltdowns, frosts lead to unpredictable apple crop

Renee Kovacich points out possible pick while searching for apples with her friend ValcilkSekloski. | Sun-Times MediFile

Renee Kovacich points out a possible pick while searching for apples with her friend Valcilka Sekloski. | Sun-Times Media File

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Updated: September 17, 2012 7:02PM

Last March, when the temperatures climbed into the 70s and 80s and stayed there, farmers gritted their teeth and worried.

They worried because the crops began to bloom much too early, making them susceptible to damage when the temperatures dropped near or below freezing again.

The staff at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park spent many nights trying to prevent freeze damage to their premature apple blossoms.

A video on YouTube shows them lighting bonfires between the rows and running hoses with hot water through the trees to help the warming process. They employed a special frost fan, and drove up and down the rows in a tractor, blowing warm air around.

“The goal was to raise the temperature in the orchard just a couple of degrees, that was all we needed,” said owner Kim Kuipers. “We were about to save about 60 percent of the orchard by doing that, whereas a lot of orchards in Illinois lost everything. All you could do was go out there and watch the temperature fall and be ready with a plan. It was a lot of long nights.”

The extra effort paid off — they have a good but limited supply of apples for picking this season. And it will begin earlier than usual, too — they open for apple picking on Aug. 25.

“Everything is on schedule earlier than usual, several weeks ahead,” she said. “We were wondering if because of the drought, if the trees are just trying to abort their fruit in order to save themselves. It’s a double whammy this year. So we’re going to open early to find these apples some homes before they’re no good to anybody.”

They aren’t sure how long the apples will last for you-pick, and with everything ripening so early, she thinks the apples may be gone by the middle of September.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to have apples in the store that we’ll be able to (purchase) from somewhere else, although that’s very challenging too, because Michigan lost all their apples in the frost,” she said. “They were hit worse than we were. I heard they’ve lost 80 to 90 percent of their entire crop, and that’s a huge industry in Michigan.”

The Kuipers are trying to work with growers they’ve used in the past to secure more apples, but are covering their bases, just in case.

“That’s why we’re pushing the pumpkin farm this year, because we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to be looking at in the apple orchard,” she said.

She recommended families call before they plan to come out, to come Saturday rather than Sunday, and to earlier in the season rather than later.

“There’s a good possibility that we could open Saturday for apple picking, and if get a big crowd, they could wipe out what we have in that orchard for the weekend,” she said. “They all have staggered ripening times.”

Kuipers’ is just one area apple orchards gearing up for a busy seasons. Some orchards have opened already; others will open in the weeks to come. Many more lost all their crops thanks to the extreme weather and will re-open next spring.

Here’s a list of apple orchards. It’s a good idea to call ahead to check on crop supply and ripening dates; plus rules on pets, strollers and wagons, and payment policies.

All Seasons Orchard: This family-run orchard boasts more than 11,000 trees and 12 of the most popular varieties of apples and pears. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Grand opening weekend is Sept. 1-3, and also features the opening of the corn maze and barnyard activities; which include wagon rides, a hay mountain, petting zoo, children’s rides, giant tube slide and more. Honeycrisp apple for you-pick available mid-September. Credit cards accepted. Check web site for ticket prices. No pets. 14510 Illinois Route 176, Woodstock. (815) 338-5637.

Apples on Oak: Orchard will not be open this year. 16146 Oak Ave., Lockport. (815) 726-0386.

Garden Patch Farms and Orchard: Apples will be available at the end of August. There are several varieties of apples available for picking into November. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to December. $5 per person to pick; plus priced per pound of whatever you pick. Fruit and vegetables for you-pick or purchase. 14154 W. 159th St., Homer Glen. (708) 301-7720.

Heinz Orchard: Apples are ahead of schedule and will be available for you-pick in mid-to-late August. Call or check the web site later in the month for hours and days the orchard is open. Varieties include McIntosh, Jonathan, Empire, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious. Pre-picked bags cost $8 to $16; cash only. Strollers and wagons welcome. No admission fees. 1050 Crest Road, Green Oaks. (847) 770-3449.

Homestead Orchard: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday to October. They offer 23 varieties of you-pick apples; plus honey, Amish jams, jellies, salsa and applewood for sale. Several varieties of apples are ready to pick; check the ripening chart on the web site. Cash only. No dogs. 11802 Charles Road, Woodstock. (815) 338-7443.

Honey Hill Orchard: This orchard too spent sleepless spring nights working to protect their trees against the elements. The apples are ahead of schedule and will be ready for you-pick in mid- to late August. Check the web site for exact dates and times. Country store, bakery, snack shop, petting zoo and straw pyramid. Nielsen’s Belgian horse-drawn wagon rides, the Waterman Lions Club serving grilled pork chop sandwiches and the DeKalb County Cattlemen’s Association serving steak sandwiches. No dogs, smoking or outside food allowed. Cash or check only for you-pick. 11747 Waterman Road, Waterman. (815) 264-3337.

Jonamac Orchard: Open for you-pick on Aug. 22. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily to Nov. 21. The corn maze, barnyard and petting zoo open Sept. 1. Wheel chairs, wagons and strollers are allowed. Apple Fest Weekend is Sept. 15 and 16, with most varieties ready for picking. Hayrides, live music from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday by the Basically Blue Grass Band. Activities include a corn maze, barn yard, petting zoo, apple train, jumping pillow and apple launcher. No pets. 19412 Shabbona Road, Malta. (815) 825-2158.

Knutson’s Country Harvest: Fruit trees are closed to you-pick this year. Fruit will be sold in store. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. 13550 Townhouse Road, Newark. (815) 695-5905.

Kuipers Family Farm: There are more than 20 varieties of apples available for you-pick, from Aug. 25. The hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. You-pick weekends only. Admission costs $10 per person for you-pick and includes a hayride and 1/4 peck bag of apples. No strollers, wagons or backpacks. No pets. 1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park. (815) 827-5200.

Lang’s Orchard: The orchard suffered a complete crop loss and will not open this season. 17411 Secor Road, Woodstock. (815) 568-7547.

More Than Delicious: The orchard suffered near-total crop losses and will not open this season. 9905 Thompson Road, Woodstock. (815) 575-9650.

Prairie Sky Orchard: Apples for picking around Sept. 1 to October. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Wagons and strollers allowed. 4914 N. Union Road, Union. (815) 923-4834.

Pine Apple Acres: No apple crop this year. 41W651 Powers Road, Huntley. (847) 669-3251.

Royal Oak Farm Orchard: The orchard opens Aug. 10 for you-pick. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays. There is also pre-picked produce, a gift shop, refreshment stand, country market, petting zoo and farm animals. Orchard tours are also available. Check the web site or call for ripening dates. Admission is $3 per car and $1 per motorcycle on Saturdays, Labor Day and Columbus Day beginning Labor Day Weekend through October. 15908 Hebron Road, Harvard. (815) 648-4141.

Woodstock Country Orchard: The orchard is closed this year. 17015 Garden Valley Road, Woodstock. (815) 923-4359.

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