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Apple season in Maine finishes strong despite significant summer drought

Researchers say this year apples may have a calcium deficiency, but otherwise, the state yielded healthy apple orchards thanks to deep roots in the trees.

NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine — At Hansel's Orchard in North Yarmouth, Margie Hansel opened up shop on a cool October Sunday morning.

Flipping the closed sign to open, the morning rush of prospective apple pickers piled in line, planning which pales they will carry as they peruse the apple orchards.

Margie said she and her family got the orchard 18 years ago and said this year was a good year for apple yield.

"Apples have been in existence since forever," Hansel said. "Farming is managing what you have. It's been a great year for us, for the apples and us."

She added the drought conditions from earlier this year did not impact her apples.

This is likely because of the old age of the trees, allowing the plants to build long, deep roots that can extract water even during dry months.

Renae Moran, a pomologist with the University of Maine, said apples are a drought-tolerant crop, but the fruit texture and taste can be impacted if its water source is constricted.

"My concern with the drought is that it came earlier this year, which could impact the calcium quantity in apples which could be impacted when we put them in cold storage," Moran said. "The trees are surviving the drought quite well, my concerns is the apples going into storage, not the trees themselves."

Moran said a solution if extreme drought episodes persist because of Maine's changing climate, more farmers need to look at irrigation to ensure orchards get enough water.

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

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

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

"We are so blessed to have people care about community traditions like the Hansel family," Katie Murphy, the president of the North Yarmouth Historical Society, said.

Only at the society can the public observe an apple cider press that's as old as the Civil War.

And the cherry... or, apple... on top of this community event? The Society is using apples from Hansel Orchard.

"It's one of those things that is real New England... What's also real New England is the tradition of history," Murphy said.

Twisting and spinning, the old metal on the cider press turns and leaks apple juice, which is bottled, or in this case, enjoyed by the community members.

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