The cool-down experienced around the state this week is a reminder that Mainers will soon be lugging firewood and shoveling snow, but in the meantime it means it’s time to pick the apples. Growers say those who do will not be disappointed.

“We’ve got a bumper crop of apples,” said Rod Bailey, of Bailey’s Orchard in Whitefield. “We’ve been busy.”

Orchards throughout central Maine have been open for pick-your-own business for a couple weeks as their early varieties have come into season, but unseasonably warm weather has had people focused on cooling off at the beach rather than picking apples. Daytime temperatures this week have dropped back into the 60s and are hitting the 40s at night.

“It started off kind of slow because it was so hot,” said Marilyn Meyerhans, of Lakeside Orchard in Manchester and The Apple Farm in Fairfield. “I think people were still in summer mode.”

Those who wake from their summer slumber and go to the orchards will find a robust crop of apples that benefited from nearly ideal growing conditions, such as warm weather, a healthy supply of buds and good pollination, said Renae Moran, university professor and tree fruit specialist for the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension.

“I think one of the things people are going to notice is the abundance of apples,” Moran said. “It’s what we call a bumper crop.”

Moran said the cooler temperatures not only put people into a frame of mind to pick, but it is good for the apples. Different varieties of apples peak at different points in the season. The McIntosh and honeycrisp seasons have just begun in this area, Moran said.

“We’re entering the peak harvest right now, when you can expect all the orchards to be open statewide,” she said. “Now we’re coming into our best apples, the fall and winter apples. This is when we start to see the sweeter apples ripening up.”

Jan Rackliff, of Morrison Hill Orchard in Farmington, said McIntosh, honeycrisp and Cortlands are ready for picking now. The orchard soon will move into Macoun season and into the delicious varieties.

“It’s a wonderful crop this year,” Rackliff said. “We have good quality, large apples and we have a lot of them.”

There has been a good turnout from the pick-your-own crowd, but Rackliff expects business to pick up even more with the cooler weather and arrival of the later varieties, such as Macoun.

“They’re tart but sweet, and they’re very crisp,” Rackliff said.

Meyerhans said New Englanders have a reputation for favoring green apples that lean toward the tart. That could play into growers’ hands this year as apples are staying greener longer because of the warmer weather.

“It’s taken longer than usual to turn bright red,” Meyerhans said. “Cold nights and warm days trigger the reddening process.”

The Manchester orchard in August was hit by a hailstorm that damaged some of the crop. Meyerhans said the owners considered forgoing a pick-your-own season in that orchard, but decided to sell the apples at a reduced rate so that people still could enjoy the orchard. The apples are still tasty, Meyerhans said, just less visually appealing. Those who are particular about such things will still find plenty of picking.

“There are loads of really, really good apples,” Meyerhans said.

Bailey said his crop last year was a little lighter than usual. This year has made up for it.

“This is probably one of the biggest we’ve had in a few years,” he said. “The size is good. The quality, overall, is excellent.”

Bailey, who opened his orchard to pick-your-own customers on Labor Day, said he expects picking to continue into late October.

But the warm weather at the beginning of the season could keep pickers going a little longer this year. Moran said the typical picking season runs from Labor Day to Columbus Day.

“I am anticipating a longer harvest this year,” she said. “I think we’re going to get a few extra good weekends of apple picking.”

About a million bushels of apples are grown on more than 80 farms in the state each year, according to the Maine State Pomological Society. All apple sales accounted for about $30 million in 2014. Fresh market sales accounted for nearly half of that, according to the USDA. This year, growers say, could push those numbers even higher.

“This is about the third good year we’ve had in a row, which generally does not happen,” Rackliff said. “We’re very lucky.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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