By Paul Tennant and Alex Lippa
---- — The apples in Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire orchards are ready to be picked — and there’s a huge crop of them.
“This is the heaviest crop that I have ever seen in the 61 years I have been here,” said Michael Smolak, owner of Smolak Farms in North Andover.
Mike Cross, farm manager at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry, said this year’s crop is already looking better than last year’s.
“It’s going to be a great crop,” he said. “Last year’s crop was only about half of a normal one. This one is a full crop plus.”
Two factors contributed to this year’s bounty, Smolak said. The apples ready to be picked now began as buds on the trees last year, he said.
An unusually large number of buds formed last year, due to favorable weather and pollination conditions, Smolak said. Rainfall was adequate, but not too heavy, and last summer did not bring extreme heat, he said.
Recent high temperatures hastened the ripening of the fruit. Apple harvests, he said, tend to alternate between plentiful and not-so-plentiful.
“Next year will be a light year,” Smolak said.
Smolak said the farm began selling apples this past weekend. Customers can either pick their own fruit or buy apples at the farmstand.
Other farms and orchards in the region report they’ve also begun selling apples, which usually tend to ripen by the second weekend in September, according to Smolak.
Wayne Elwood of Elwood Orchards in Londonderry agreed a better blossom is one reason for the good crop.
“Last year, there was a frost in the spring, right when the apples were in blossom,” he said. “The frost gets below freezing and kills the blossoms. This year, we didn’t have that problem.”
Elwood said he expects an average year.
“Our early batch came in the middle of August,” he said. “We are opening up the Macintosh this week.”
Cross said there was never a worry about another bad year of apples.
“When you have a small crop one year, the trees come right back with a big crop,” he said. “Certainly, the rain we got in June and July helped everything as well.”
Now, Cross hopes the rain goes away, especially on the weekends.
“We need good weather so people can come up here and help us pick them off the trees,” he said.
Smolak does, too. He’s expanded the apple operation considerably since he started running the farm in 1976. There were 168 apple trees then; today, there are between 4,000 and 5,000.