Mixed bag for local orchards amid bumper apple season across Ontario

Apple yields in eastern Ontario ran the gamut from slim pickings to bountiful bushels, but fortunes for the fruit were up overall across the province this season, according to the Ontario Apple Growers association.

'When the bins are short, you know it's a big crop,' association says

Three young apple pickers pull fruit from the trees at Mountain Orchards on Saturday. The owners say they're having a 'once in a lifetime' harvest this year. (Alexander Behne/CBC News)

Apple yields in eastern Ontario have run the gamut from slim pickings to bountiful bushels this fall, but the provincial apple growing association says fortunes for the fruit were up overall in 2022.

"Apple bins are in short supply," said Cathy Mckay, chair of the Ontario Apple Growers. "Which means that there's a lot of fruit out there in the orchards."

Mckay, who also owns Nature's Bounty Farm in Port Perry, Ont., said most orchards in the province will normally have hundreds or even thousands of storage bins at their disposal.

"When the bins are short, you know it's a big crop," she said. "This is just quite an exceptional year."

That was certainly the case for Shelley Lyall, who co-owns Mountain Orchards in Mountain, Ont., about 50 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa.

After a disappointing 2021 growing season that saw the farm lose nearly three-quarters of its yield to frost, Lyall said her orchard is in the midst of a "once in a lifetime crop."

Last year's losses may have cleared the way for this year's banner crop, Lyall said, by giving the trees a break from the stress of growing fruit.

Add strong pollination, appropriate rainfall and plenty of sunshine throughout the spring, and "the stars aligned," Lyall said.

"We haven't had a crop like this in so many years," she said.

A woman poses for a photo in front of several apple trees.
Shelley Lyall has been a part owner of Mountain Orchards since 1974 and says they're having a banner year. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Some farms fall back on other crops

Despite the overall trend, not every apple grower experienced ideal conditions this year.

Mat Kelly and Vic Bakker, who own Cannamore Orchard in Crysler, Ont., said a cool spring meant a short blossom period for their trees.

The farm also faced a dry spell in August, during which "some of the trees got stressed and dropped apples," and then suffered through a period of listless pollinators, Bakker said.

A few people stand inside an orchard's main building with dozens of baskets of apples lining the walls.
Baskets of apples line the walls at the Cannamore Orchard near Crysler, Ont., on Saturday. The orchard's owners say their trees have already been picked clean after a less than stellar year. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

As a result, all of the orchard's trees have already been picked clean — forcing the farmers to offer would-be apple pickers a different crop.

"You take whatever nature gives you," Bakker said. "Once the apples were gone, it's like, well, we're picking pumpkins, folks."

With files from Alexander Behne