As a participant in previous cider buys I was happy to see that the club had found a source for cider this year, and from a pressing facility that uses apples from many Ontario growers including the family farm that I am a part of. This is the story of how some of our apples got to be in the club cider.
Apples are produced for juice differently in various parts of the world. In North America, apples are mainly grown for fresh eating and food processing. Apples destined for juice are either generally either “grounders” or defect apples that are pulled from the grading line that do not meet the cut for the grocery store shelf. Poor color, small size, and defects from hail or other environmental factors are all reasons for an apple to be pulled.
The low cost producers in Asia supply a juice concentrate for much of the apple juice found in grocery stores. In Europe you will find orchards that are managed specifically for juice / cider and not for fresh eating. The Canadian demand for apple juice and cider far outreaches domestic supply at the present time.
Grounders or windfall apples are fruit that has been blown off the tree or has dropped when it was bumped by a picker. Sometimes they simply fall to the ground because of maturity, none of these apples enter the fresh market. All varieties of apples will have a proportion of ground falls however, Macintosh are particularly notorious for dropping when they reach maturity. Windfalls represent most of the fruit that ends up in a glass as juice or cider, and they are typically raked up and collected by groups of labourers.
On our farm, we have imported and adapted equipment from Europe that mechanically sweeps and picks up these windfall apples. Mechanically harvested juice apples are typically a superior product vs traditional ground falls as they are collected earlier in the season before they degrade significantly. A mechanical harvester can be operated by a dedicated crew of people while the apple harvest is ongoing vs waiting until hand picking is completed and labourers are available to manually collect grounder apples.
Our operation is currently shipping two +/- 75,000 lb loads of apples a week to the processor. As a large volume producer, we have also invested in equipment to wash and sort any sticks and debris out of the collected apples. This is not typical as most producers will ship the product direct as collected. It takes 2-3 days to collect enough apples with the harvester, and approximately 2 hours to wash, grade and load a tractor trailer.
Since early September we have shipped the following varieties of apples for pressing – Paula Red, Ruby Macintosh, Macintosh, Gala, and Honey Crisp. Empire, Courtland, Ambrosia, Crispin, Red Delicious, and Spy will also be collected as harvest progresses over the next month.
Learn more about apples grown in Norfolk County at http://www.nfga.ca/