For the first time in more than seven decades, Mueller’s Orchard & Cider Mill won’t be opening its doors this fall.
The Linden/Fenton Township orchard lost 100 percent of its crop because of an early bloom followed by multiple freezes which wiped much of the blossoms across the state.
“It’s the first time we won’t be open since 1941,” owner Mike Mueller said of the family-owned business, which started up in 1941. “It’s devastating.”
Warm weather followed by freeze
Mueller said the blossoms bloomed in March six weeks earlier than last year, which was also an early bloom. While most people were enjoying the mild winter weather and 80-degree days this year, apple farmers weren't among them.
Will Cartwright, manager of jokes that he was shaking his head yelling at the high jet stream. With the worst apple crop season since 1945, his crop was down approximately 75 percent compared to the year before, he stated. However, Spicer's will keep its doors open.
Mueller said the first freeze late in the month wiped out about 30 percent of his crop. Mueller said he can tell if buds are still alive by slicing them open and if there is any brown, the blossom is dead. He said the second freeze knocked out about 60 percent of the apples.
“We would have still opened then,” Mueller said. “After the third freeze when it got down to 22 degrees, nothing is going to survive that. It wiped out the entire state.”
Mueller said the orchard, which is located on 100 acres in Fenton Township, is protected from frost by 1,000 feet of rolling hills, but there is little or nothing he could do to save the apples from the freeze. During the first round of cold weather, he used an old tactic of burning hay bales around the trees to raise the temperature, which worked at first, but couldn’t overcome the final cold freeze.
He said the only apple blossoms that survived were on five 60-year-old Steele Red apple trees. He said the orchard’s grapes were wiped out too. Mueller said he will still have to prune and take care of the orchard, but there will be no income from the orchard coming in. Mueller said there may be some cherries ripe in June and July.
“There is no second bloom. One bloom, that’s it,” he said.
The impact of the loss
Spicer's will open as usual with apples brought in from the Grand Rapids area. The apples sold may not all be Spicer’s apples, but the crowds will still be able to enjoy their fall tradition.
“We still got the doughnuts,” he said. “And we’ll still have sweet corn and pumpkins and we’ll still have apples, just a high percentage won’t be ours," said Cartwright.
The 25-year veteran farmer is staying positive and realistic, saying that dealing with crops and weather is just another day on the job.
“That’s just farming,” he said. “It’s Michigan, it’s farming and things are not always going to go the way you want them to.”
Mueller said the crop loss could affect prices in the grocery store as the fruit will have to be imported from outside of Michigan.
Mueller said he and his wife, Jennifer, who runs the bakery of the orchard, are lucky to have other full-time jobs. Mike is a county sheriff’s deputy and Jennifer is an occupational therapist.
“Mother Nature controls it. I was devastated at first, but you can’t control it so you deal with it,” Mueller said. “We plan on opening next year.”