As next year's buds start to peak out behind the leaves, that's about all Dave Pagoria has to look forward to.
"Normally, I have five guys helping me out picking apples," Pagoria said. "And this year, they're going to be able to go fishing."
Unseasonably warm days this past winter got the trees growing earlier than usual at Helene's Hilltop Orchard in Merrill. Then, cool nights in late spring brought frost, killing the blossoms.
"We probably lost 99.9 percent of our crop," Pagoria said, who owns the orchard with his wife.
Typically a tree branch should have about 8-10 apples on it; an entire tree should have 120. This summer, most at Helene's have about half a dozen.
"It's distressing," Pagoria said. "It kind of takes the wind out of your sails," especially when so many people look forward to the apple picking and eating season.
"I love apples, they're wonderful," Cindy Fischer said. "You can eat them any way, with carmel, without carmel."
Fischer is the manager at Emma Krumbee's restaurant in Wausau. She says fall is one of their busiest times of the year.
"A lot of people are excited about coming here because they know that it's fresh and it's good and it's home made," Fischer said.
For the producers hit hardest, that means they'll have to borrow from other farmers. Pagoria says the annual You Pick is canceled since there isn't anything to pick, but Helene's will still sell pre-picked McIntosh, Honey crisp and Cortland apples. And remember those buds?
"When you start looking, you can see the buds are really good." Pagoria says the trees that didn't do well this time around are storing up nutrients for next season. He says they'll bloom heavy and hopefully help cushion this fall's economic blow.
Helene's will also provide family activities all fall to encourage them to come out despite the lack of apples. The orchard opens Sept. 15.
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