Hit the Road, Jack!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jack Frost nipping at your nose around the holidays is seasonal and song-worthy. His playful nipping in April around opening fruit blossoms? Not so much. An extraordinarily warm March had the trees (and birds and bees) thinking spring, but old Jack? He had other plans!

While frosty nights are an inconvenience to most people, they can be downright scary for your produce farmers, whose tender plants and trees risk serious damage or death when Jack bears down on them. For those with vegetable plants in the field, a freeze means the need to replant and explain to customers why the first crops are a bit late to market. For those with blooming fruit trees, a bad freeze can mean crop loss for an entire year.

Interestingly, what a ‘freeze’ means on tender fruit blossoms is rather more complicated than you may think. Charts with confusing-sounding terms and dire predictions such as this one are consulted when a freeze looms:

CROP                       ( 10%Kill (temp)  ,  90%Kill (temp))

Silver Tip              ( 15     2 )
Green Tip             ( 18    10 )
Half inch green   ( 23    15 )
Tight cluster        ( 27     21)
First Pink             ( 28    24 )
Full Pink              ( 28    25 )
First Bloom         ( 28     25 )
Full Bloom          ( 28     25 )
Post Bloom         ( 28     25 )

Bud Scales separating        ( 15        0 )
Blossom buds exposed      ( 20        6 )
Tight cluster             ( 24        15 )
First White               ( 25         19 )
Full White                ( 26        22 )
First Bloom              ( 27        23 )
Full Bloom               ( 28        24 )
Post Bloom              ( 28        24 )

Swollen Bud               ( 18          1 )
Calyx Green               (  21          5 )
Calyx Red                  ( 23            9 )
First Pink                    (  25          15 )
First Bloom                (  26          21 )
Full Bloom                 (  27          24 )
Post Bloom                (  28         25 )

European Plums
First Swelling         ( 14         0 )
Side White              ( 17         3 )
Tip Green                ( 20         7 )
Tight Cluster           ( 24         16 )
First White               ( 26         22 )
First Bloom             ( 27         23 )
Full Bloom              ( 28         23 )
Post Bloom             ( 28         23 )

We don’t grow them, but rest assured, the numbers for cherries and apricots are ‘worse’ (that is to say – you are likely not to see ANY local cherries or apricots this year).

Basically this shows how much crop might be killed at certain temperatures. And it can be scary. Peaches in full bloom? At 27 degrees, you’ll lose 10% of the crop. But just down a few degrees to 24, and you’ll lose 90% of the crop. Yikers!

It’s definitely enough to keep some orchardists up at night. And some of them were this year. We know of orchards in the area that lit literally hundreds of fires in their orchards to try and keep the temperature up just a wee bit around the trees….as every degree counts at these temperatures.

Some farms which stoked fires all night long encountered no major problems other than a lack of sleep (although maybe they got s’mores??). But other orchards going the fire route ended up with police and fire companies on the property insisting the fires be put out. Ouch.

Here at North Star, we opted to not go the fire route. We have a site which is usually windy AND is right on a very busy road. So the thought of hundreds of fires causing rubber-necking accidents, multiple calls to 911 and the fire department, and the threat of blowing plumes of fire kept us from those s’mores. Had the temperatures been predicted to be a wee bit colder, we may have hired a helicopter to buzz the place overnight and keep the air stirred up (another freeze-avoidance tactic which sometimes works). Of course, that would probably have caused accidents and 911 calls to the police as well.

So, we opted to just let Jack have his way.

One frustration we had was that we have two thermometers on the property, and they both recorded different temperatures on each of the 3 freeze nights that week. We always opted to side on the one with the higher reading!

So, how did things shake out? Believe it or not, we still can’t be quite sure.

Oh, yes, we definitely have a crop.

At the time of the freezes, many of the apples were between the ‘green tip’ and ‘half inch green’ stage. Some were still in ‘silver tip’. So we’re mostly ok there. In the Asian pears, things were more advanced. Certain varieties in particular were hit harder than others. The peaches and plums were all over the place in their stage of bloom, depending on variety, so some were completely wiped out (or nearly so), while others look pretty darned good.

The frustrating thing at this point is that wee baby fruits which are on the tree now may grow up to have visible frost damage (which makes them a bit ugly, but they still taste good!), or they may simply give up the struggle and fall off over the coming weeks. We’ll see what happens.

Certainly, we won’t have to do as much fruit thinning this year. A crop loss isn’t all bad if it’s something like 30 to 60% loss or so.

Trees normally set LOTS of baby fruits. Like – LOTS!!! We orchardists need to remove most of those fruitlets most years so the remaining fruits grow to a lovely size and become absolutely delicious. So, losing a percentage of the crop to those freeze events will hopefully mean that our thinning job over summer has just become easier. So then we’ll be thanking Jack, I suppose.

But enough is enough… it’s time to:

Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back

No more no more no more no more

Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back

No more

Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack Lyrics | MetroLyrics