Northern Michigan orchards produce millions of apples each year

Honeycrisp. Gala. Royal Cortland. Michigan’s bountiful, rolling farmland is filled with apples of all varieties.

With a cooler climate, proximity to lakes, and nutrient-rich soil, generations of farmers have found this to be a great place to grow quality, flavorful apples.

More than 14.9 million apple trees spanning 34,500 acres make the Great Lakes state the country’s third-largest apple producer, according to the Michigan Apple Committee, a commodity group formed in 1939 to represent apple growers in the country. Michigan.

Grown primarily north of Grand Rapids, the apple crop is one of the state’s most profitable fruit crops. The harvest begins in August and ends in October of each year.

This season, the state expects to harvest 18.25 million bushels of apples (766.5 million pounds); a smaller harvest than usual due to freezing temperatures in April which damaged some flowers, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

There are 775 family farms in Michigan that grow apples, many of which have carried on the tradition over generations.

Red Delicious apples are normally ripe from mid-September to mid-October.

Closest to the Upper Peninsula, the northernmost orchard is the Golden River Orchard at Cheboygan, a first-generation family farm established in 2002.

Reporting a “much smaller” apple harvest this year due to spring frosts, Golden River offers 12 varieties, including Early Harvest Zestar, Paula Red and Ginger Gold.

The orchard is verified by the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Insurance Program for engaging in sustainable cultivation practices.

Golden River Orchard in Cheboygan.

With 1,000 trees on 50 acres of land, a little further southwest is Uncle Frank’s Apple Town in Emmet-Brutus County, owned by Frank Gotts. Fresh, unpasteurized apple cider is a big seller here.

Asked about his harvest, Gotts said, “It wasn’t a good year for apples,” also referring to the spring frost.

In order to meet his demand for fresh apple cider, Gotts said he was fortunate enough to purchase apples from other vendors nearby, such as Golden River.

“We not only use our orchard, but we also use a few other orchards in the area to help us supply our apples,” he said.

The most popular seller is Honeycrisp, according to Gotts. He also grows Zestar, Liberty, Gala and Royal Cortland varieties on his land as well as other older and lesser-known varieties.

“We have trees over 100 years old that grow Wolf River and Transparency,” Gotts said.

Royal Farms, owned by Pat and Sara McGuire, owns 1,000 acres of land south of Charlevoix which mainly cultivates fruits, mainly apples and cherries, but also grapes and peaches. They wholesale their apples to others across the state.

“Our apples are widely distributed throughout Michigan,” said Sara.

The McGuire’s have owned the farm since the mid-1990s and over the past decade has focused, among other things, on hard apple ciders.

“It’s really helpful to be able to put our fruit in a shelf-stable form,” said Sara, comparing perishable fruit to the longer shelf life of a cider bottle.

“As a fruit grower you have a very small window of opportunity to sell your product and generate income, but when placed in a more stable product it expands that window,” she said. .

Crates waiting to be filled with picked apples from the orchard at Royal Farms.

Also recognizing Honeycrisp as the top seller, Royal Farms often uses the sweet variety.

“We use our Honeycrisp apples in a whole bunch of our products,” said Sara, describing the dumplings, pies and caramelized apples.

For the production of cider, a mixture of apples is used to achieve the right flavor profile.

“We are always looking for the right combination,” said Sara. Each batch is mixed to taste and depending on what is available. At this point in the season, we’re probably mixing an Empire and a Gala. ”

For hard cider, they also use a variety of very old apples that wouldn’t be tasty to eat on their own, according to Sara.

Although it’s a smaller crop this year, the fruit looks good and there is plenty to enjoy, Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said in a press release.

Smaller harvests can also often indicate a larger harvest for the following year.

“When apple trees produce a smaller crop, the energy is stored and directed to producing the next crop,” Smith said. “The industry is hopeful that we will see a bigger harvest next year. ”

Cheboygan's Golden River Orchard is open on weekends each year in September and October.

For a full list of apple orchards in northern Michigan, 20 in total, visit

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