Production of Honeycrisps has doubled over the last four years, making it the fifth most-grown variety, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs at the U.S. Apple Association. But not everyone is a fan. Those who produce Honeycrisps often have the most cutting words for it.
“The first challenge is controlling its vigor,” said Brenda Briggs of Rice Fruit Co., which has been selling apples out of Adams County, Pennsylvania, for more than 100 years. Growers, she explains, have to train the trees so that their branches don’t get too tall too fast, with leaves that block the sunlight from the apples below.
The fruit is also vulnerable to bitter pit – small, sunken brown spots that sully an otherwise perfect orb. The flaw is a result of the trees’ inability to properly take up calcium from the soil. Growers are forced to spray their orchards with foliar calcium to boost their intake, but it’s not always enough.
Size can also be an issue. “The fruit tends to grow very big,” said Mark Nicholson of New York’s Red Jacket Orchards, whose business includes about 400 acres dedicated to apples. “That’s good, but at a certain point the consumer doesn’t want to buy an apple the size of a grapefruit.”
The thin skin that makes those first bites so juicy is also very delicate and easily sunburned. Birds love Honeycrisps more than other apples, forcing growers to buy and install netting to keep them away.
Even if a producer manages to grow a decent crop of Honeycrisps, harvesting and storage come with additional hurdles. The variety is so delicate that the stems have to be clipped off so the apples don’t tear each other. And while other apples can go right from tree to cold storage, Honeycrisps must first spend 5-10 days being “tempered” at a mild temperature before they can be refrigerated.
“It requires growers to do a lot more work,” Nicholson said. In the end, only 55 percent to 60 percent of the fruit makes it to retail, Seetin said.