Buds chilled but not killed
Orchardists still think full harvest is possible
Fruit growers get nocturnal this time of year, vigilantly watching the nighttime weather when dropping temperatures threaten the fruit trees flowering in their orchards.
And while records were set for low temperatures Wednesday morning — the mercury dipped to 21 degrees in Palisade and 22 degrees on Orchard Mesa, both record lows for the date — many sleep-deprived orchardists were fairly upbeat when assessing the damage later in the day.
“I believe, at this point in time, that we are in pretty good shape,” said Theresa High, co-owner of High Country Orchards and Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa. “I think there’s still potential for a full crop.”
Despite the National Weather Service reporting record-low temperatures, High said the lowest reading she saw among the 10 to 12 orchard thermometers overnight was 27 degrees.
She said it was “like a really nice, warm feeling” to see numbers like that. Of High Country Orchards’ 71 acres of peaches, she guessed 25 percent of what was open and blooming was lost. With the late spring this year, High said about 75 percent of their crop hasn’t even budded out yet.
“You only need about 10 percent of production on the tree to succeed to have a full harvest,” she said.
High was able to run her wind machines for about an hour overnight Wednesday to protect some cherries and early-blooming peaches. But not every farmer felt comfortable cranking up their wind machines due to conditions.
Aloha Organic Fruit is lower in elevation in Palisade, and grower Steven Sherer said there was too much wind for him to turn on his wind machines.
“Fortunately, I think I’m only at about 20 percent bud. So I still might be OK — in that it just might have done some early thinning for me,” he said.
Talbott Farms’ Bruce Talbott said farm operators did little more than sit by and hope the temperatures didn’t drop too low. The kill that did occur shouldn’t jeopardize too much of his eventual fruit yield, he said.
“With peaches, I think the valley still has 80 to 90 percent of a crop. But there’s a lot of thinning that won’t happen this year that often does,” he said.
Talbott estimated he’ll save $80,000 to $90,000 in thinning costs because of the freeze event, but that’s offset by losses of about $80,000 in fruit that he’d have had with no freeze.
“My guys aren’t going to like it because they’re not going to get near the work they would have gotten,” Talbott said about his expected reduction in thinning this season.
They were more proactive at Morton’s Orchard on E 1/2 Road on East Orchard Mesa. The temperature there dipped to 23 degrees from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The Mortons turned on their heating systems and wind machines earlier Tuesday evening, according to Heather Morton Burtness, the Front Range manager for the orchard.
She said their early blooming apricots, cherries and plums “were hit really hard” and estimated they lost about 25 percent of blooming peach tree flowers. She called the freeze a “really hard thin” and added that the possibility still exists that some varieties will end up being more affected than others.
“It’s definitely going to be a little less (than a full peach crop). We’ll have to sort of see over the next few days,” Burtness said.