Apple picking season on track for success in Julian, even in Hilary’s aftermath

Last year’s apple picking season was cut short due to 109 mile-per-hour winds during Tropical Storm Kay. Despite Hurricane Hilary, prospects for the upcoming season are looking good.

As Southern California transitions into its version of autumn each year, San Diegans are prompted to make their annual pilgrimage eastward to Julian for an idyllic afternoon of apple picking.

But when it comes to picking fruit in the area’s orchards, some years are better than others. High winds, warm winter weather, late frosts, wildfires or low rain can all significantly reduce the availability of apples. Low harvest years can mean trouble in the small, former mining town of Julian, which thrives on the tourism the apple harvest brings each year starting in late August.

As Tropical Storm Kay tore through East County and into Julian last year, with winds reaching up to 109 mph, it tore fully ripe apples from the limbs of trees, tossing them onto the ground.

“It was pretty devastating for their business because it was so poorly timed,” said Tyler Stamets, Julian Chamber of Commerce president. “When the harvest was just ready to go, everything got knocked off the trees, and it was already not the greatest apple year.”

In the days and weeks after, orchards announced that they were closed for the season because there wasn’t enough fruit left for visitors to pick. Since there were no orchards open for apple picking, the tourism industry in Julian suffered as well.

“It was a big problem,” Stamets said. “When you have that message going out to the world that, ‘Oh, there are no apples this year,’ that’s going to affect the number of people that show up.”

So when news that Hurricane Hilary was on track to hit San Diego County last weekend, some farmers worried it would lead to another dismal apple harvest. Some apples had just finished ripening, like the Gravenstein apples at Volcan Valley Apple Farm, which started its apple picking harvest last Saturday and continues through Aug. 26 and 27. Other varieties of apples were still growing plump and juicy.

Ahead of the storm, at least one orchard — Julian Apple Co. — announced on social media that staff had preemptively picked ripe fruit to keep it from being destroyed in the predicted high winds.

Despite last weekend’s weather event, which was downgraded to a tropical storm as it ascended up the West Coast, the outlook for the upcoming apple harvest looks much more positive than in the aftermath of Kay.

To continue reading this story, which was first published on Aug. 26, and to see its corresponding photos, visit The San Diego Union-Tribune.


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