California’s ongoing drought is impacting one of San Diego’s most popular fall traditions: apple picking at the many orchards in Julian.
During a normal year, growers in the east San Diego community would be on the cusp of fall apple picking season, with orchards overflowing with the fruit – but not this year.
In fact, many of the popular orchards are closed for the season, forced to turn away visitors and families who enjoy the apple picking tradition fall after fall.
Conrad Young owns the Calico Ranch in Julian. He has 20 acres worth of apple trees but this year all 4,000 of his trees have something in common.
“There are just no apples to be had in this whole orchard. I’ve never seen it like this, ever,” Young told NBC 7.
For the first time in 30 years, Young’s well is drawn down to where it can no longer continuously produce water. Instead of tripping on apples, he's kicking up dust.
The few trees that do have fruit are really not yielding much and are hardly worth picking.
“Normally these are at least twice this size,” he explained, showing some small apples. “The trees are pretty smart. They kind of anticipate what the year is going to be like. I think they went into shutdown very early.”
Inside Young’s cooler, the boxes typically full of product are all empty, which is why he and many of his fellow Julian growers decided to close their gates early this season.
In fact, Calico Ranch closed before the season even started, much to the dismay of visitors.
“We’ve gotten so many calls, so many families that have been coming for years and they're very disappointed this year, about as disappointed as I am,” Young lamented.
Instead of welcoming families, Young is already getting ready for next year.
He's trying to keep his workers employed knowing they have families to feed, so they’re keeping very busy trimming branches.
Under drought conditions the trees have a harder time fighting off pests and disease. Their roots are stressed and their limbs are dying.
And, though in the middle of his property sits a sort of apple tree graveyard, Young is staying positive.
“If you’re in farming, you have to be an optimist,” he said.
He's already banking on 2015 as a banner year for apples – and apple picking.
There are still a few orchards open in Julian and a few others accepting apple picking groups by appointment only. That said, locals hope that one bad crop doesn’t ruin the whole fall season for the mountain community that relies so heavily on tourism.