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Locally grown apples may be hard to find this year in most parts of Lyon County.
The often-abundant apple and peach crops at the Orchard, 1120 North Highway 99, have dropped precipitously. Meanwhile, the traditional apple sale at Hetlinger’s Developmental Services has been cancelled altogether because the trees did not produce.
The Hetlinger AppleFest celebration, however, still will be held on Saturday at the center, 707 S. Commercial St.
“It’s been a pretty slim year,” said Bob Karr, owner of the Orchard. “We’ve had some Jonathans and we’ll have some Arkansas black. We did have a few Honey Crisp, but they’re all gone. They’re a very popular variety. And a few golden.”
Peaches will be even more scarce than apples at Karr’s store.
Prolonged and extreme heat affected the depth of color of the apples and sometimes caused sunburn and rot problems. Karr pointed to drought as the single greatest cause for the plunge in production.
He hadn’t expected the unusually large apple crop harvested last year.
“Sometimes that will mean a light crop next year,” Karr explained.
He was prepared for that possibility; the drought simply exacerbated what could have been a minor problem.
Dry weather as the trees were making their blossom buds, plus a flash of exceptionally cold weather in February, added to the lower expectations.
“The official temperature was about 10 below,” he said. “My outdoor thermometer said 20 below.”
Three of Karr’s four orchards simply did not produce.
“The one orchard that did produce was at an elevation about 15 feet above the other,” he said, adding that it probably survived because cold air flows downhill — to the other three orchard fields.
He estimated the apple crop at about 15 percent of normal, with peaches coming in slightly behind that estimate. Cold weather harmed the peach crop.
“This year I think I’ve only got about 90 trees and I think there were only peaches on seven of those trees. It’s kind of like a 10 percent crop there, or less,” he said.
Karr has purchased apples from orchards that received adequate rainfall, and has managed to continue to supply the Farmers’ Market and the store at the Orchards.
Northern Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska appeared to have escaped the drought.
“Things look like a Garden of Eden up there. Just as lush,” he said. “The corn is 10 foot high and the soybeans are waist-high. It’s amazing.”
Crop conditions in Lyon County are not so lush, although spotty heavy rainfalls kept some areas of northern Lyon County better-watered than the remainder of the county.
Karr said that he had irrigated the trees this year, using ponds to supply the water. the drought now has shrunk the ponds to an extent that makes Karr uneasy.
“There are some pastures where if we don’t get running water, I mean any runoff, into the ponds before winter, we are in trouble,” he said.
The whimsy of weather patterns and crop production is something Karr and his family have lived with all their lives; what they cannot control, they learn to cope with.
Karr has supplemented his own crop by purchasing apples grown in areas not affected by the drought and temperature extremes. That has allowed him to continue to take part in the Farmers Market in Emporia and to continue supplying products to the existing customer base.
And, the Orchard offers more than fruit. In addition to other products (many that emphasize Kansas) inside the store, the Orchard draws in people who want to enjoy being outdoors, away from the city noise and traffic.
“A lot of people like to get out away, out in the country,” Karr said.
For one dollar, people can purchase a cup of fish food to feed the catfish in the pond. they are free to explore around the native grasses and have a look at the bee hives Karr is developing for another business. Longtime beekeeper Don Morey is the mentor for that project, Karr said.
His son, Jon Karr, has finished an 18-hole miniature golf course on the property. Jon Karr, formerly in the stone business, had an accumulation of large rocks and old sidewalk rocks from Morris and Chase counties, as well as western Kansas. he used those to build the course and finished it with limestone screenings and outdoor carpet, Bob Karr said.
The cost for a round of golf is $2 for people 12 and under and $3 for people over 12 years of age.
Karr also conducts tours around the Orchard.
“Basically they’re educational tours, and I talk about farming and growing different things, not just apples, but other things also,” Karr said.
Those extras at the Orchard will go on, whether the crops are large or small.
“Everything is kind of cyclic,” Karr said, finding a similarity between farmers and football coaches. “They always say, ‘Wait ’til next year.’”
That is what he plans to do, just as farmers and football coaches have done for generations.
“We have to keep the right frame of mind on this,” Karr said with a wry laugh.