Thursday, October 11, 2012

As Jerald and Cindy Deal watched their apple trees waiting to see how much of their crop had been damaged by cold April weather, Jerald made a promise. “We will have apples in the fall. No matter what, we’ll be here selling apples,” he said last April.

 Deal’s Orchard has made good on that promise.

This weekend is the 30th annual Fall Festival, and visitors will find plenty of apples and the family-oriented activities that have drawn people to the rural Jefferson orchard.

Last March, central Iowans enjoyed unseasonably warm weather. Apples trees blossomed five weeks earlier than usual. The full bloom had passed and the buds, from which apples form, were developing when cold weather returned in April. When the overnight low at the orchard fell to 23 degrees on April 11, the Deals knew they lost part of their crop. It was several weeks before they knew the extent of the damage.

 Jerald Deal estimates over 80 percent of his crop was lost.

“We do have a few of our own apples. We got hit by the frost, but we’ve been able to supplement with apples from two other orchards in western Iowa. We have plenty of good Iowa apples, and we’ll have apples and cider until Christmas, just like always,” he said.           

Last spring Deal was concerned that every orchard had been damaged by the cold, but the freeze wasn’t as severe in western Iowa. Apples from an orchard in Mondamin are liberally mixed with Deal’s own apples this fall. The cider press is still running at Deal’s, but it’s pressing Harrison County apples, too.

“Our retail business for apples has been good. People know we have apples, so they’re coming,” Deal said.

The Deals have seen every sort of weather possible for their Fall Festival, from 80 degrees and sunny to 38 degrees  and snow. Rain is the worst weather for festival weekend, as it puts a stop to many of the outdoor activities.

This year the Deals decided to add special activities during the two weekends prior to the festival and one weekend following it. Hundreds of people have already enjoyed hay rides, barrel train rides,  the family fun area (including a 65-foot by 35-foot jumping pillow, the giant 80-foot slide, and several hungry goats), the corn maze, the straw maze, and more.

Those activities will be available this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13 and 14, but the hayrack will be horse-drawn.  The Greene County High School FFA chapter will host a petting zoo and Boy Scout Troop 534 will have its haunted cave. There will be spin art, sand art, pony rides and plenty of food.

The Pork Producers will grill brats and burgers for those who want protein to go with hot apple pie and apple dumplings, homemade ice cream, roasted pecans and almonds, kettle corn or fried fruit pie.

Deal calls the Fall Festival “a party we throw for good family fun.” That won’t be different this year.

A visit to the pumpkin patch is a highlight for many who go to the orchard. Deal has diversified over the last several years, and that has helped. He said the pumpkin crop is “great” this year and sweet corn was “good.” “Some of the other things were challenging,” he admitted.

The April freeze ushered in a difficult growing season for all Iowa producers. Deal irrigated where he could, but he lost most of the seedling fir trees he had put in his Christmas tree farm. He said he’ll plant a little larger trees next spring to replace the 2012 seedlings. Ninety-five percent of his Scotch pine seedlings survived. “The drought affected the trees some, but we’ll be OK. We’ll have plenty of Christmas trees,” he said.

Deal has been in the business for four decades and has seen good years and not-so-good years. He said 2012 has been the most-challenging year for the orchard.

“We had to do a lot of watering. The freeze was devastating, but we were able to buy apples to supplement our own and we have a lot of Iowa apples to sell,” he said. “Our Fall Festival will be a celebration just like it always is.”

(Deal’s Orchard is located west of Jefferson at 1102 244th St. Turn south off Highway 30 onto Greene County Road P-14  and continue to County Road E-57. Turn east and continue to K Ave. Watch for signs.)