Hearty Irene-surviving apples, with great Brix scores, will dominate this fall

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Apples. (flatbushgardener via flickr.)
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New York's apples survived Hurricane Irene by clinging to branches. If they had fallen onto the orchard beds below, and come in contact with flood waters, they could not have legally been sold.

A week before fall harvest went into full swing, the Food and Drug Administration and local agricultural groups banned farmers from selling crop that had been touched by flood overflow, because of the threat of contact with sewage and other contaminants.

"The apple crop came through largely unscathed,” said Peter Gregg, spokesman for the New York Apple Assocation, a nonprofit agricultural trade association representing the commercial apple growers in the state. “The winds really didn't come as predicted, and the apples clung to the trees.”

Apple-growers were lucky: Irene waterlogged many upstate fields, devastating upstate farms and affecting local farmers' markets' supplies and C.S.A. deliveries to locals.

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The Mettawee River in Granville flooded, washing out the bulk of the Kilpatrick Family Farm's fall crop. Between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of leeks, lettuce, squash, arugula, bok choy, beans, brussels sprouts and radishes were ruined; the farm lost between 80,000 and $100,000 in revenue for the year, and that is a lot of brussels sprouts that won't make it to the city.

Deborah Kavakos of Stoneledge Farm in Greene County, N.Y., wrote that her farm had to suspend its vegetable C.S.A. delivery: "As much as we would like to keep delivering, our farm will abide with the FDA, NYS Ag and Markets and Cornell Cooperative Extension recommendation not to harvest the produce," she wrote. "At the height of the harvest season, it is a difficult decision." Irene even washed away that earthy-sweet fall smell of autumn.

Flood waters sweep away precious topsoil, which provides that fall scent, and nourishes in-ground crops.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated the statewide agricultural loss at $45 million along 140,000 acres of land.

Yesterday, senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer responded by introducing The Post-Irene Emergency Farm Aid Act, offering $10 million to provide emergency services and resources for agricultural communities following natural disasters like Irene.

Vegetables and in-ground crops will be most effected by the storm. Expect slim pickings for fresh veggies during the next few months.

As for the surviving crops, at least they will be sweet.

A sunny, murky July and August packed apples with sugar. A sugar alchemy stirs in apples as they ripen: Most of them have finished growing at harvest time, so the ratio of sugar to liquid increases as they sit in orchard beds or baskets. This ratio is called their “brix level,” a kind of sweetness barometer for fruit, that is measured by looking closely a drop of juice with a tiny telescope-like device called a refractometer. As Flavor Alchemy describes: “If in a drop of the fruit’s juice there are 200 milligrams of solids and 800 milligrams of water, then the juice is at 200/(200+800) = 20 °Bx concentration."

Some supermarkets and farmers' markets display this Brix number on signs next to their produce.

Jersey Mac and Tydeman are the August varities that were most effected by the storm, since they are the first to be picked off the trees mid-month. Ginger Golds and Paula Reds, otherwise known as “The Girls of Summer,” are also usually harvested in late August. They might be hard to find.

The MacIntoshes will likely be in markets right on time despite heavy spring rains. They are picked during the first weeks in September. The harvest lasts into early November.