It’s apple-picking time in South Carolina
CLEMSON – If the old saying is true and an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, it’s time to fill pantries with South Carolina apples.
But, you’d better hurry as time is running out and the end is near for the 2018 South Carolina apple harvest season.
Apples are a fall favorite in South Carolina and Kerrie Roach, a Clemson Extension horticulture agent, and other Extension agents are busy helping growers learn how to maximize knowledge and use technology to reinvigorate the South Carolina apple industry. Once a booming market in South Carolina, the apple market has declined over the years.
“Harvest for South Carolina apples begins with varieties such as Ginger Gold, which can be picked as early as the last week of July,” Roach said. “The apple harvest season extends through mid- to late- October with varieties such as Arkansas Black. The Yates variety typically is picked after a good frost.”
Marvin Bryson, owner of Bryson’s U-Pick Apple Orchard, 1011 Chattooga Ridge Road in Mountain Rest, has been growing apples for 45 years. He retired a few years ago from a job at Clemson University and spends most of his time these days working with a few family and staff members in his orchard. He remembers when business at the orchard was booming.
“At one time, we were commercial,” Bryson said. “We did all of the picking, packing and shipping ourselves. But the apple industry started declining and we had to do something to survive, so we converted our orchard to a U-Pick operation.”
The decline in the apple industry began some years ago when growers couldn’t find enough laborers to work in their orchards. Bryson enjoys what he does but said he’s not sure what the future holds.
“At my age, I just don’t know when the time will come to give it up,” he said. “No one else is interested in running the orchard. I don’t know what will happen to it when I can no longer work in it.”
Doug Hollifield of Hollifield’s Apple Orchard, 161 Hollifield Lane, Long Creek, has group of local workers who have been working with him and his wife for 8 to 10 years. Hollifield sells his apples at local farmers’ markets or in his roadside stand on S.C. Highway 76.
“We do everything,” Hollifield said. “We do the picking, the packing, whatever it takes to get the apples to the market.
Mike Ables of Ables Orchard, 14161 US-76, Long Creek, said working in an apple orchard is difficult. Every apple sold in a supermarket, farmer’s market, roadside stand and so on, is picked by hand. An apple picker’s day can start at 6 a.m. when they carry their ladder into an orchard, climb up the ladder and lean into the trees grabbing apples and dropping the them in bags strapped around their waist. Once the bags are full, the picker climbs down and empties the full bag into a bin. Depending on the time of year, an apple picker’s day can last late into the night.
“This is not a job for everybody,” Ables chuckled. “It’s hard work, it’s hot work and there are some people who just aren’t cut out to do agricultural work.”
The apple harvest season in South Carolina is from August through November.
South Carolina currently has about 30 apple growers. In 2017, Clemson hired Tom Kon to help the state’s apple growers. Kon has a dual appointment with Clemson and North Carolina State University. He is located at North Carolina State University’s Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center near Asheville. Kon has a doctorate in horticulture with an emphasis in applied pomology from Pennsylvania State University. His area of expertise includes studying chemical blossom-thinning strategies in apple orchards.
“I am in the process of developing an integrated research and Extension program to address production-related issues of the southeastern apple industry,” Kon said. “I am interested in the following research areas: crop load and canopy management, pruning and tree training practices, rootstock evaluations, mechanization of orchard practices, as well as evaluation of plant growth regulators to improve fruit quality. My program will be responsive to the needs of the industry and will aim to improve orchard productivity and profitability in the Southeast.”
In the meantime, Roach and other Clemson Extension agents continue to visit the growers to share with them the latest in technology. Roach recently visited Bryson, Hollifield and Ables to show them how to use a Brix refractometer and a penetrometer.
“The Brix refractometer measures sugar content and the penetrometer measures fruit firmness,” Roach said. “Growers can use these instruments to determine when their apples are ready to be picked.”
Other materials developed by Clemson researchers include the MyIPM App. This app is a smartphone application developed by Clemson University researchers in 2012 for South Carolina peach and strawberry growers. It has expanded into a tool that serves all fruit growers along the East Coast.
“With MyIPM, growers are able to pick effective and safe fungicides for conventional and organic production of strawberries and peaches,” said Guido Schnabel, plant pathologist who worked with software designer Roy Pargas to develop the app. “The app, in a nutshell, tells you with audio, pictures and text what you need to know about a particular disease and its management. I think it is an awesome supplement to our southeastern spray guides.”
The app includes current detailed information on around a dozen diseases for each fruit, as well as tips on managing the disease and information for southeastern growers to submit pathogen samples to be analyzed for resistance profiling.
This app is available free for iOS devices and androids by going to https://apps.bugwood.org/apps/myipmseries/.
The Certified South Carolina grown program is another tool used in helping South Carolina farmers cultivate and showcase their goods. This program is a cooperative effort between farmers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and the Department of Agriculture to promote South Carolina products. South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said the program helps consumers easily identify, find and buy South Carolina products.
“When people buy local, they are taking home fresher, tastier foods and supporting local farmers,” Weathers said. “Certified South Carolina grown produce can be found in farmers’ markets, roadside stands and supermarkets. Buy South Carolina grown whenever you can and support your local economy.”
A listing of South Carolina farms participating in the Certified South Carolina Grown program can be found at www.certifiedscgrown.com.