Fall is, of course, the busiest time on an apple farm. While there's work to be done year-round, including dormant pruning in the winter, planting in the spring, and maintenance in the summer, nothing pushes us as farmers quite as hard as getting fruit off the trees in a timely manner.
We grow about 5,000,000 (yes, 5 MILLION) pounds of apples every year, and ALL of them have to be picked in the span of about 10 weeks beginning in the middle of August and finishing right around Halloween. It takes our entire field crew, plus about 10 additional seasonal workers to harvest everything on time. Most of these apples will be put into long-term storage to be packaged and shipped to grocery stores throughout the winter and into the spring.
Of course, along with our own picking, we host our very popular U-Pick operation every weekend. This takes a large team to organize and execute. When you add it all up, our workforce swells to more than 50 employees for September and October! And if your last name is Dressel, you know you'll be working 7 days a week until well into November.
It's a crazy hectic time, and there's definitely days that test our resolve and make us question why we put ourselves through all this. But when the crop is in, the coolers are full, and we finally get a minute to look out over the orchard full of empty trees and beautiful orange leaves, we realize we wouldn't trade it for anything. We hope you'll come share that feeling with us.
Happy Fall, everyone!
While last winter was an especially cold one, this year seems to be trying to even out the average temperatures by being remarkably warm (so far). A chilly November seemed to be an omen of a harsh season to come, but the month of December broke lots of records to go on as one of the warmest New York has ever seen. Pictures of green grass, swollen tree buds and even a few flowers emerged on social media, exemplifying just how unseasonable the warmth had become.
While this was welcomed by many who enjoy warm-weather activities, it's not really what we like to see as farmers. Admittedly, it's much nicer working outside in 50-degree weather than it is at 20-degrees, but abnormal weather is rarely good from a horticultural perspective. Consistent winter cold is essential to the trees' phenological growth; meaning if temperatures fluctuate abnormally, the dormant state of the trees is disturbed and can negatively affect the growth the following year. (Imagine being woken up multiple times in the middle of the night and then trying to work the next day) Even worse, if the relatively warm temperatures suddenly give way to a hard freeze, significant damage and bud death can occur overnight and there's practically nothing we can do about it.
But it doesn't end there. Every winter we have to prune every single tree on the farm. This is called "dormant pruning" and it is essential to growing a consistent, quality crop. The problem with a warm winter is that the trees may not go entirely dormant. Pruning non-dormant trees can have an adverse effect on their development and can damage the tree. Ideally we would wait until temperatures returned to their normal levels, but we have a hard enough time pruning every tree over the course of the winter, so waiting would mean not being able to finish before the spring, so unfortunately we're forced to take the risk and begin pruning before total dormancy.
If there's good news to be had, it's that we're farmers so we're used to rolling with the punches. We are forever at the whim of Mother Nature, and sometimes all we can do is to do our best to prepare and endure.
Now go outside and enjoy climate change! Happy New Year!
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.
The "News" tab has gone a while without an update and for that I apologize. I'll give a quick summary of what's happened around here since last spring and then delve into the current state of things.
The biggest change this past year has been the addition of a cider production facility. If you travel the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, you may have noticed the construction on the hill last summer:
The other big news, while not necessarily a business occurrence, is the addition of a new Dressel to the family! Tim and Kristin were married in a small, intimate ceremony on Sanibel Island, Florida on February 20th. Safe to say that Tim's had quite the year!
Onto current affairs!
If you're living in the area, you're quite aware of the unusual weather we've been experiencing. The winter seemed like it was going to be a mild one...until February. Temperatures dipped close to -20 on multiple occasions and debilitating snow extended well into March, making dormant pruning nearly impossible. The record lows took their toll on the grapes and peaches, leaving the 2015 season in question. Below-average temperatures hung in a while and delayed the beginning of the growing season by nearly 2 weeks.
When the chill finally lifted, nature seemed eager to catch up and 45-degree highs quickly became 75-degree highs, accelerating the trees into an explosion of growth and, eventually, bloom. It's the first (and hopefully last) time we've seen the peaches bloom at the same time as the Rome trees. All this translates into what would be a month's worth of work for us being compressed into just a couple weeks, so it's been a struggle to keep up!
To further the weather headaches, the warm weather has been accompanied by virtually no rain at all. The few showers we've seen have done little to water the trees and plenty to encourage disease and mold growth. We've had to stop planting new trees to focus on installing irrigation to water the starving trees we've just planted. Nobody said farming was easy, I guess.
Moving forward, we're continuing to renovate an old orchard we purchased last year to prepare it for new plantings. This includes removing outdated trees, taking soil tests to determine nutrient needs, installing drainage tile in low-lying areas, and, again, installing irrigation. The cycle continues!
That's about the gist of our current situation. We're just about to finish up processing and shipping the last apples of the 2014 harvest, which will be a welcome relief and allow us to focus some of that attention elsewhere. We've just re-opened the Ice Cream Stand for its 14th season (!!) and are getting geared up for the summer and strawberry season, which is right around the corner. For now we're hoping for rain and pressing on!
A big part of our business, especially in the winter, is sorting, packing, and shipping apples wholesale to grocery stores all over the east coast. Unfortunately, not all of the apples we grow are nice enough to put on a store shelf. When we sort the apples, anything that's too small, too green, misshapen, bruised or otherwise imperfect gets set aside to be used to make cider. Anything rotten gets fed to our neighbor's cows.
In the fall, when we're making a LOT of cider, we're able to use all of our cider apples. However, when the local cider business slows down over the winter, we're generating a lot more cider apples than we're able to grind ourselves. When this happens, we sell large loads of apples to processing companies around the northeast. These loads can range from 1000 to 2000 bushel (1 bushel = ~42 lbs). While some companies take the fruit in the bulk bins we store them in, other companies prefer to take the apples in a dump truck to save on shipping weight and avoid having to return the empty bins later. Today we loaded one of those trucks and I thought it would be interesting to share some photos of the process. Enjoy!
The new version of our website has just gone live! If you're reading this, you've found it!
This new design will be easier for us to update and therefore will be more accurate and instantly up-to-date. We will also be keeping our Photo Album as current as possible. If you have photos you've taken of the farm you would like to be featured on the page, you can submit them to us by uploading them to our Facebook page.
We will still be updating Facebook regularly as well with all the info, pictures, facts and trivia you're used to.
We hope you like the new format! We're still putting some tweaks in and smoothing out the edges. If you have any suggestions or see any bugs, misspellings, etc. please let us know.