FARMINGTON — Jean Simpson watched nervously as dark clouds rolled in Tuesday morning over her apple orchard in Farmington.

She thought back to past summer storms that wiped out entire crops just shy of the harvest, when every apple hanging from her 400 trees at Morrison Hill Orchard was ruined by hail.

As heavy rain started falling, Simpson remained tuned to the weather channel as her friends started calling to tell her about the small hail pelting their homes nearby, ravaging gardens and flowers.

The worst of the storm produced hail the size of golf balls and was hitting just a few miles from her orchard, which she owns and operates with her husband, Jerry.

She relaxed when she knew their apples, just weeks away from the early harvest, had survived the close call.

“We were lucky to miss this one, you always hold your breath,” she said Wednesday, recalling the previous day’s storm.

One of her friends, however, wasn’t so lucky at her house off Perham Street in downtown Farmington, where most of the hail started falling around 11 a.m.

Ann Walker listened to hail bouncing off her home’s skylights, worried that any minute they would shatter.

“Our house was being pelted so hard,” Walker said of the scary moments during the storm.

The skylights escaped damage, but when she surveyed the backyard, Walker found shredded flowers and a dead baby robin, apparently a victim of the storm, she said.

A neighbor’s vegetable garden also was devastated by the hail, according to Walker, 60.

“It looked like it was bombed out,” she said of the garden.

The damaged garden had Walker worried about her friend’s apples in the orchard, just four miles outside of downtown, and led to the phone call, she said.

With a day to think about the near miss, Simpson recalled a 20-minute hail storm in the early 1990s when they lost literally every apple.

“We went around afterward just to see if we could find some apples for our pies and such, but there was nothing left,” she said.

The orchard is insured to a certain extent against losses from storms, according to Simpson, 64.

Sometimes damage from a hail storm is less severe if it comes earlier in the summer, including June, when the Simpsons thin the crop to allow some apples to grow larger, she said.

In two weeks the early apples, Paula Reds and Anoka, are picked, according to Simpson. The orchard produces more than 800 bushels of apples, with more than 20 varieties picked from August to early October.

The National Weather Service received reports of hail across much of Maine on Tuesday, according to Tom Hawley, a meteorologist for the service’s station in Gray.

Farmington was hit by some of the biggest ice balls, with some reaching more an inch in diameter, he said.

And another storm hit downtown Farmington Tuesday about 4:45 p.m., with the fire department responding to a series of fire alarms, triggered by lighting strikes damaging some businesses’ systems, according to Chief Terry Bell. There were no reports of other damage from the lighting storm, he said.

A more serious threat for farmers, however, is a frost in early spring that kills apple blossoms, according to Simpson.

The weather, ultimately, is something that all farmers have to deal with and learn to overcome, she said.

“It’s the nature of farming,” she said.

And the day after the storm, things were looking good for apple lovers.

“I think we’re going to have a bumper crop this year,” Simpson said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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