The 80 degree weather in March and April frosts caused havoc on the region’s apple orchards, resulting in some orchards canceling a cherished fall tradition for many families.
Many of McHenry County’s smaller orchards, including Huntley’s Pineapple Acres, are not open for apple picking due to bad crops this season.
Other orchards that managed to open have had to modify the “U Pick” experience.
Apple crops across the nation are down 14 percent from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Illinois, like other states, experienced a warm spring season that caused trees to bud earlier than usual, according to a USDA press release. Multiple freezes in April damaged many of the buds. Then came the drought.
The central state region reported a decrease of 71 percent in production from last year, the release stated.
Locally, many small orchards are not opening. The height of apple picking season is this weekend, Sept. 15, but people may not realize there are not many orchards open in McHenry County this year.
Lang’s Orchard is one of those closed this season. The Woodstock orchard usually has gala, McIntosh, Granny Smith apples and other varieties.
“We have no apples,” owner Steve Lang said.
Lang said he goes to meetings for orchard owners and has found the only places that have had good crops this season are the larger orchards, which spent thousands of dollars to save the crops. Owners bought equipment to thaw out trees and used other techniques like starting fires in the orchards, he said.
“For small (orchards) like us, it was not worth it,” Lang said. “We’re small. We are a Mom-and-Pop operation,” he said, adding the lost season gave the family more vacation time this year.
There are many Mom-and-Pop operations in the county like More than Delicious Orchard in Woodstock. And a message on More than Delicious Orchard says it won’t open this year because “we have no apples.” PineApple Acres, which also has U Pick Christmas trees, had a similar message.
All Seasons Apple Orchard, in Woodstock is open but is not having the traditional apple picking, said Eddie Hong, orchard manager.
“We do have apples this year, what we are doing, though, because of the frost in April, is bin picking,” he said.
Employees harvested the apples then put them in bins in the orchard where people can go out and pick the apples, Hong said.
“We are trying to give them the best orchard experience possible with what we have,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to open the orchard for the traditional you pick experience.”
All Seasons has added new attractions to the farm for families. The orchard has a 12-acre corn maze and a zip line but added pig races, a petting zoo and a magician, he said. The orchard draws families from Chicago so All Seasons wanted to offer things that would make the trip to McHenry County worth it, he said.
The orchard also has apple cider, apple cider doughnuts and caramel apples, Hong said.
Prairie Sky Orchard in Union has a limited supply of apples, said co-owner SueEllen Arndt. She and her family picked the apples that did grow, bagged them and have the bags for sale in their barn.
“We’ve got Gala, Fugi, and Goldens,” said Arndt, whose family has had the orchard for more than 20 years. The orchard has about 1,200 small draft trees, a majority of which were affected by the frost and led to the smaller yields this season.
Prairie Sky Orchard does have U Pick raspberries, Arndt said.
While weather conditions damaged the apple crops, the pumpkin crop looks fine, All Season’s, Hong said. “We had the drought but (the pumpkins) do not look like the were affected. It looks like we have a good pumpkin crop.”
Some of the orchards open this year include:
14510 Route 176
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
4914 N Union Rd
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
15908 Hebron Road
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday