Orchardist strikes ‘gold’ with big apple

Posted: August 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

A large Ginger Gold apple (right) sits next to an early Macintosh at Richard’s Fruit Market. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Orchardist Eddie Richard holds an oversized Ginger Gold apple onFriday at Richard’s Fruit Market, southwest of Stephens City. The apple — he estimates its weight at about 1 pounds — is pale green with darker green speckles. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

STEPHENS CITY — It might be called a Ginger Gold, but it’s not because of its name that orchardist Eddie Richard is handling this one gingerly.

At about three times the size of an average-sized Ginger Gold, this particular apple — picked on Wednesday — is the largest Richard has ever seen.

“I’ve been trying not to drop it or have anybody handle it,” said the owner of Richard’s Fruit Market at 6410 Middle Road, southwest of Stephens City.

He said 300 bushels of the early-ripening apple have been picked this season, adding that they are bigger than last year’s crop.

“What makes this so beautiful is there’s no imperfections on it,” said Richard, whose parents founded the market 55 years ago. “There’s no bruises from handling and harvesting. There’s no wet-weather diseases.”

The apple, whose weight he estimated at about 13/4pounds, is pale green with darker green speckles.

“The only thing it’s missing is a stem,” he said.

Richard pointed out a crate of other Ginger Golds, some of which were also quite large.

He said the farm devotes about 50 acres to apples, 10 acres to peaches and five to vegetables.

The market, in a large pole barn with a metal roof, offers produce, beef from the farm’s 30 cattle, local honey and wine, oil paintings, homemade aprons, cookbooks and gift and home decor items.

Richard said it also has a petting zoo and pick-your-own flower garden.

“My mom and dad started Richard’s Fruit Market, but my great-grandparents settled on the property in 1878, so I’m the fourth generation, and my son Cameron is working with us,” he said.

Richard’s mother Mary, sister Debbie and wife Nancy also work at the market, open daily July through November, and once a month December through April.

This isn’t Richard’s first brush with the fame that comes from oversized fruit. Last year, one of his tomatoes grew to 31/2 pounds.

The fewer apples on the tree, the larger each can grow, he said. “Less competition. Mother Nature just has a way of giving you so many apples on a tree. I’ve got some trees that are way too heavy, and they’re going to be a lot smaller.”

Richard said the family orchard has 15 varieties of apples, noting that the Ginger Gold is sweet. “It’s an early version of a Golden Delicious. It’s a jump-start into the fall harvest. The fall harvest is expected to be nice. [But] it’s never over till it’s over.”

This was not a typical August, he said. “[You] dream about it, and you just pray for it. But it’s so unusual to have a hard rain a couple of times a week during harvest.”

John Marker, a partner in Marker-Miller Orchards at 3035 Cedar Creek Grade in Frederick County, also pronounced the upcoming harvest “very promising.”

“Apples are nice-sized,” he said. “We anticipate starting in full swing Monday. It will go on through a good part of October, maybe the first of November. We’ve picked a few early varieties.”

Those early apples include Ginger Golds and Galas, Marker said, and Honeycrisps should start getting picked at the end of next week.

Greg Peck, an assistant professor of tree-fruit horticulture at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Frederick County, said the apple harvest began last week.

“Overall, the crop in the Winchester-Frederick County area looks fantastic — really beautiful color on the fruit this year,” he said. “It looks like another really good year for Virginia apple growers. Last year was a very good year for them.

“One of the things that really helps is having cool nights and nice, cooler days. We have had many days with nice, cool weather, particularly the nighttime temperatures being cool and daytime being nice and bright and sunny,” he said.

Peck also noted that fewer apples on a tree mean larger fruit.

The last time the Research and Extension Center surveyed apple acreage in the region was 2005, he said.

At that time, Frederick County had 5,371 acres and Clarke County had 405.

— Contact Sally Voth atsvoth@winchesterstar.com