Fruit farmers fight freeze

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 May 2013 at 12:00 am

Overnight irrigation helps protect crop from cold

Photos by Tom Rivers – Ice coats the blossoms on the blueberry bushes at Brown’s Berry Patch in Waterport.

This riser sprays water on blueberry bushes at Brown’s.

CARLTON – This morning the blueberry blossoms at Brown’s Berry Patch were coated with about a half-inch of ice after being doused with water overnight.

It may seem counterintuitive to spray water on orchards when it’s freezing, but the ice provides some protection for the crops. As the ice freezes, it gives off heat to keep the buds from dropping below 32 and freezing.

Brown’s pulled an all-nighter last night running an irrigation system for the blueberries and strawberries. The plants were in full-blown blossom stage when the cold hit last night. Brown’s was ready, spending the previous days setting up irrigation systems, running pipes into the orchards with sprinklers and risers.

“Your early bloom is your biggest berries,” said Eric Brown, co-owner of Brown’s Berry Patch and Orchard Dale Fruit Farm. “They’re in the delicate stage. You have to protect them.”

Brown walked through the orchards this morning, and inspected the blossoms. He didn’t see black in the flowers, which would have been a sign the blossoms were dead. He believes the irrigation made a difference overnight and helped stave off big losses. The freeze can kill off blossoms when they are so vulnerable in early May.

That happened last year when a very warm March caused fruit trees to blossom early, and then a deep freeze hit in late April with several days of temperatures in the low 20s. That caused widespread damage to the apple crop, resulting in the worst season since 1945.

“Last year there was damage everywhere,” Brown said.

Eric Brown looks over a field of strawberries this morning after an overnight freeze.

Last night the temperatures didn’t plunge into the low 20s. Apples, when they’re in the blossom stage, can endure 30 to 31 degrees, the low temperatures earlier today in Waterport.

Apples are heartier than strawberries and blueberries. That’s why Brown’s focused on keeping the berries alive by running the irrigation system.

“You buy it as insurance and hope you never have to use it,” Brown said at the farm a little after 6 this morning.

The farm set up an irrigation system to help strawberries survive the cold.

This year’s cold spell isn’t nearly as bad as last year, when the farm irrigated the berries at least six nights. That allowed Brown’s to have a berry crop last year.

Some farmers in Wayne County lost all of their apple crop last year. Many of them have purchased wind machines that help move out cold air and pull down warm air, Brown said. A couple degrees difference in the orchard can make the difference in the blossoms surviving and the farmers having a crop.