Windham County orchards weather the cold snap

Saturday May 25, 2013

PUTNEY -- The thermometer at Green Mountain Orchards read 24 degrees early one morning last week and co-owner Andrea Darrow feared the worst.

Last year was difficult for Vermont apple growers as a warm spring caused the trees to bud two weeks early, and then a hard freeze the next month caused significant damage.

The buds were right on target this year, but when last week's frigid temperatures hit Darrow said it could have spelled disaster again.

But so far, it appears as though the state's orchard owners have dodged a bullet.

"We were close to full bloom, when the trees are most vulnerable," Darrow explained. "We found a little damage but not a lot. I think we're OK for now."

The 2012 East Coast apple crop was down by about 30 percent compared to the previous year,

A dryer-than-usual summer also led to the decrease in the 2012 crop.

Last year Darrow said the damage was significant and obvious after the freeze and apple growers knew right away that it was going to be tough year.

She said it is very hard to know for sure how the trees fared without doing a scientific analysis, but after walking through the orchard and inspecting a few buds she says it appears as though the flowers survived the hard frost.

She said the weather up to the hard freeze had been perfect with sunny, warm days and good conditions for the bees to do their work on the flowers.

"Most of the trees are not as low as where the thermometer is, so it might have been a little warmer," she said. "We've had beautiful weather for pollinating, and everything was looking great. We're thinking at this point that it's not too bad."

Steve Justis, executive director of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, said he is hearing from other growers around the state that the cold May weather did not severely affect the budding trees.

Justis said different varieties can survive cold weather better than others, and it could be a while before apple growers know for sure how their fruit survived the recent cold snap.

And at the same time he said there is still a long way to go before the fall harvest, and with that, there are still plenty of opportunities for Mother Nature to upset the apple cart.

A June hailstorm, July drought, or August wind gust can severely cut into the overall crop, so Justis knows it is way too early to relax.

Still, after last year he said growers are happy to take what they can get and do what they can to prepare for the next weather challenge.

"We still have a whole summer to look forward too," he said. "Right now we are looking at the potential of having a full crop. People in the apple business are eternal optimists. They have to be."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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