November is a month for clean-up and winter preparation. The orchards are emptied and mowed one more time. Harvest equipment is repaired, greased, and tucked away in the barn until next year. Seasonal employee housing is cleaned and winterized. But what comes next?
We're routinely asked what we do over the winter. It's a fair question- what's an apple farmer to do when it's too cold to grow apples? Well, I'll tell you.
Dressel Farms grows apples on approximately 400 acres. Every year we harvest around 140,000 bushels of apples. (A bushel is ~40 pounds, so that's ~5.6 million pounds annually!) That's WAY more than we can process, much less sell, during September and October. Most of those apples get stacked away in special long-term cold storage rooms to be processed slowly over the next few months.
These "Controlled Atmosphere" or "CA" rooms are specially designed to be air-tight, allowing us to precisely control not only the temperature, but the oxygen and carbon dioxide content as well. While the air you're breathing now is about 21% oxygen and <1% carbon dioxide, the air in a CA room will typically be around only 3% oxygen and 3% carbon dioxide. This drastically slows the ripening process of the apples inside, allowing us to keep them for up to a year while maintaining crispness!
We have 10 of these rooms on-site with a capacity to store around 100,000 bushel of fruit. Over the course of the winter and spring, we will re-open these rooms one-by-one as needed while we pack and ship apples to grocery stores up and down the East Coast and even overseas! It typically takes us about 9-10 months to go through our whole crop, so we'll still be selling this fall's apples as late as next June!
Of course, there's plenty of other work to be done. Dormant pruning of apple trees is vital to producing a consistent, quality crop. Starting in early December as soon as the trees enter their winter dormancy, we begin the arduous task of properly pruning every single tree on the farm.
Winter is also a time we use to catch up on jobs we might've put off during the busier seasons. This includes equipment repairs, building renovations, and LOTS of paperwork. We also continue to press fresh cider weekly throughout the winter and maintain our winter retail store 7 days a week.
Admittedly, it is a MUCH slower pace than the rest of the year, so most of our vacations are planned for the winter as well. After working 70+ hour weeks for 2 months straight, we figure it's a good time to unwind anyway.