Maine apple orchards doing well despite significant drought

Researchers say the apples this year may be calcium deficient, but otherwise the state has produced healthy apple orchards thanks to the trees’ deep roots.

NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine – At Hansel’s Orchard in North Yarmouth, Margie Hansel opened up shop on a chilly Sunday morning in October.

Flipping the closed panel open, the morning rush of would-be apple pickers crowd into a line, planning the blades they’ll wear as they roam the apple orchards.

Margie said she and her family acquired the orchard 18 years ago and that year had been a good year for apple yield.

“Apples have been around forever,” Hansel said. “Farming is about managing what you have. It was a great year for us, for the apples and for us.

She added that the drought conditions earlier this year had not affected her apples.

This is likely due to the trees getting old, allowing the plants to build long, deep roots that can extract water even in the dry months.

Renae Moran, a pomologist at the University of Maine, said apples are a drought-tolerant crop, but the fruit’s texture and taste can be affected if its water source is restricted.

“My concern about the drought is that it happened earlier this year, which could impact the amount of calcium in the apples, which could be affected when we put them in cold storage,” Moran said. “Trees survive drought pretty well, so what concerns me is the apples that are in storage, not the trees themselves.”

Moran said one solution if bouts of extreme drought persist due to Maine’s changing climate, more farmers need to consider irrigation to ensure orchards get enough water.

But for Margie Hansel, keeping the tradition of picking Maine apples is paramount.

“A lot of people come back year after year and tell us how much they love it,” Hansel said.

Speaking of tradition, on the road to Hansel Orchard, the North Yarmouth Historical Society held a community event, open to the public for the first time since before the pandemic.

“We are so lucky that people care about community traditions like the Hansel family,” said Katie Murphy, president of the North Yarmouth Historical Society.

Only at the company can the public observe an apple cider press as old as the Civil War.

And the cherry… or the apple… in addition to this community event? The Company uses apples from Hansel Orchard.

“It’s one of those things that’s real New England… What’s also real New England is the lore of the story,” Murphy said.

Twisting and turning, the old metal of the cider press spins and lets out apple juice, which is bottled, or in this case, enjoyed by members of the community.

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