The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown

SMITHSBURG, Md. (AP) — Bill Gardenhour has been growing apples all his life and said he has never seen a growing season as good as this one.

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The ironic thing is, it looked like it was going to be the opposite, he said last week.

The warm weather in March caused apple tree buds to mature early, which can be a nerve-racking situation for growers because the tender growth is then susceptible to frost damage.

There were a couple of nights in April when the temperature dropped to about 25 degrees, and Gardenhour said there was significant damage to his crop.

“If you would have asked me in late April or the first of May how much of a crop we had, I would have said less than 25 percent,” said Gardenhour, of Gardenhour Orchards.

But that turned out not to be the case, and Gardenhour said what he believed happened is that the trees were so loaded with buds that a record year was in the making.

The banner growing year was further fueled by rainfall in mid-August and September, Gardenhour said.

Fruit growers assess their annual harvest based on a percentage of the potential top production.

Gardenhour said his orchard off Gardenhour Road was close to 100 percent production this year. Given Gardenhour’s long time in the apple-growing business, one would think he has seen it all.

“You think you have. Then you have a year like this,” said Gardenhour, who works with his wife, Julia, on their 100-acre apple orchard. “We haven’t seen a year like this. Not in my lifetime.”

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The Gardenhours also have about 15 acres of peaches.

Mike Forsythe, who, with his wife, Chris, owns Linden Hall Farm along Downsville Pike, said his apple production this year also has been close to 100 percent.

“There could have been better years, but I don’t know how,” said Forsythe, who grows apples, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, corn and hay, and runs a dairy operation.

Forsythe said apple performance across the county has been “spotty” this year due to the frosts earlier in the year.

Leroy Tracey, one of the owners of Mountain Valley Orchards in Cavetown, said his apple harvest this year was off for a couple of varieties. But other than that, Tracey said, he had a “pretty good season,” with production at about 80 percent.

Tracey said apple production varied in the region because of different contours of orchard land, which affected frost patterns.

Tracey said some of his apples are sent to be processed, while others are sold at a retail shop the company runs near the intersection of Mapleville Road and Jefferson Boulevard. The parking lot was a beehive of activity on a recent afternoon as people stopped in to check out bags of apples and other fall attractions, like pumpkins.

Washington County produces most of Maryland’s apples and there are about 12 growers in the county, Gardenhour said.

Gardenhour is part of a grower co-op known as Knouse Foods. Many of the apples for the co-op are processed at a facility in Chambersburg, Pa., and used to make products like apple rings and pie filling, Gardenhour said.

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