Michigan is reporting a smaller apple crop this season, due to an early frost in April that destroyed many apple blossoms. Local orchards and cider mills, like Blake’s Family of Companies, say there are still plenty of apples for guests to enjoy.

Michigan is reporting a smaller apple crop this season, due to an early frost in April that destroyed many apple blossoms. Local orchards and cider mills, like Blake’s Family of Companies, say there are still plenty of apples for guests to enjoy.

Photo provided by Blake’s Family of Companies

Smaller apple crops can’t hinder the fun at local orchards, cider mills

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published October 13, 2021


METRO DETROIT — Fall has officially arrived, and the cooler weather is drawing many local families to apple orchards and cider mills for some outdoor entertainment.

However, those who do will likely notice higher prices for apples, cider and doughnuts due to smaller apple crops statewide, labor shortages and product price increases spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diane Smith, the executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said a freeze in late April caused some Michigan apple growing areas to experience nine or more hours in the 20 degree range, which she said was too cold for any of the delicate apple blossoms that opened at that time.

“Even with frost protection tools and the apple trees’ natural defense mechanisms, some of the fruit was lost,” Smith said in a statement. “However, there will still be plenty of apples for consumers to enjoy this fall.”

Although the Michigan Apple Committee estimates a harvest of 18.3 million bushels this year, down from 22 million last year, Smith said the smaller crop could mean a larger one for 2022.

“When apple trees produce a smaller crop, energy is stored and directed toward production for the next crop,” she said in a statement. “The industry is hopeful we’ll see a larger crop next year.”

Michigan harvested around 22.5 million bushels of apples in 2020 and 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Despite this year’s crop shortage, Melanie Radner, a co-owner of the Franklin Cider Mill, said there is plenty of cider, apples and traditional German-spiced doughnuts to enjoy at the historic mill, which has been around since the 1800s.

“We deal with a great orchard up in Grand Rapids, and they are wonderful to us. We just get what we can get. The apples do look great, and they taste great,” she said.

The scant supply has caused many apples to double in price, which Radner said has been tough to swallow.

“The price increase for the apples is hard for us, because we have to increase our prices a little bit, as well … not a lot — it’s very minimal,” she said. “We haven’t had one complaint.”

In fact, the price of just about everything orchards and cider mills use has jumped this year.

“It’s not just apples, it’s everything, any product that we carry here — our doughnut mix — everything has gone up since the coronavirus, unfortunately. Everyone has had to raise their prices,” Radner said.

Luckily, the rise in cost hasn’t deterred crowds from enjoying the beloved fall tradition.

“Crowds have been steady since the day we opened,” Radner said. “Weekends are usually busier, but we’re pretty steady, as long as the weather cooperates.”

After running a completely outdoor operation for guests last year, the Franklin Cider Mill has re-opened its interior for visitors to view the cider-making process. Masks are required to enter the mill, and viewings are limited to 25 visitors for each pressing. Some other mill favorite offerings are making a comeback this season, including hot dogs and cider dogs, as well as the Franklin Tent — which is filled with homemade jams, maple syrup, honey, salsas, meats, cheeses and more. Behind the mill, by the river, is the Franklin Cider Mill community spot, which hosts live jazz music and a magician for children on Saturdays and Sundays by the river. Once a month, in collaboration with the Franklin Village Library, the mill is also offering a book hour on Saturday mornings with topics related to Franklin Cider Mill, cider, doughnuts, apples and ducks. Dates, times and topics are listed online.

Blake’s, a family-owned and -operated orchard and cider mill in Armada that has been serving generations since 1946, is also reporting steady crowds this season.

Andrew Blake, the president of Blake Family of Companies, said Blake’s pivoted early on in the pandemic to create more safety and outdoor features.

“We made significant investments to do so, such as building more outdoor bars, adding more retail outposts to sell food and beverage, creating sanitation stations, and purchasing a 100-foot tent for added outdoor seating/gathering when patron limitations were in place. We’ve carried many of the additions into this year,” he said in an email.  

Blake’s was also able to battle the spring frost by investing and planning ahead.

“Mother nature is unpredictable, and after 75 years of farming, we have come to expect and prepare for weather challenges. We have invested in several safety measures to protect our crops, such as wind machines and irrigation systems,” Blake said in an email.

The Blake’s Family of Companies is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a harvest of fun-filled events and attractions at its three locations — Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill in Armada, Blake’s Big Apple in Armada and the newly renovated Blake’s Backyard in Almont.

“The farm and apple orchards started it all in 1946, and over the years, that expanded to year-round attractions, experiences and events that is now a tradition for many families, and we are honored to help create those memories for generations,” Blake said in a statement.

Depending on the Blake’s site, guests can enjoy u-pick apples and pumpkins, cider and doughnuts, corn mazes, a haunted house, hayrides, a hard cider bar, and more.

This summer, the company wrapped up a $1 million redevelopment project to the property in Almont to transform it into Blake’s Backyard, an expanded multi-purpose year-round retail and entertainment venue.

“It’s a way to experience Blake’s while avoiding the crowds. New amenities include a taproom serving Blake’s Hard Cider, indoor and outdoor seating, a small bites menu and fresh market to grab a bite, in addition to the retail greenhouse, farm stand produce and u-pick farms,” Blake said.  
For more information about Blake’s, visit www.blakefarms.com or call (586) 784-5343. For more information about the Franklin Cider Mill, visit www.franklincidermill.com or call (248) 626-8261.