Despite frost fright, majority of peaches spared in valley

At about 5 a.m. Sunday, Kendra Zadrozny takes a temperature reading of the air at peach level in the family orchard at Z’s Orchard, 315 33 3/4 Road. With the help of a wind machine, the temperature in that part of the orchard was hovering around 29 degrees—warm enough to keep the peaches from freezing.

Jennifer Zadrozny, left, shines a light up the wind machine for her sister Kendra, who has to climb to the top to prime the machine with gasoline after the temperature dropped to 28 degrees about 3 a.m. Sunday.

Kendra Zadrozny takes a handheld temperature reading Sunday morning.

Back-to-back record-low nights damaged some fruit trees in the east end of the Grand Valley, but several farmers reported Sunday that the majority of their big money-making crops — peaches — survived the frigid weather.

Many of those same bleary-eyed folks were expected to fire up wind machines and light smudge pots for a third straight night, as this morning’s low was forecast to drop into the upper-20s.

“We’ve got a little damage out there,” said Bruce Talbott, vice president of Talbott Farms in Palisade, which owns 280 acres of peach trees.

He noted that temperatures largely fluctuated between 29 and 31 in his family’s orchards, but some readings plummeted as low as 26 1/2 degrees.

Fruit specialists say fruit trees can lose 10 percent of their crop if the temperature drops to 28 degrees for 30 minutes. If the temperatures drop to 25 degrees for 30 minutes, 90 percent of the crop could be lost.

Talbott said it’s hard to tell for sure at this point, but he expects Talbott’s to retain 80 to 90 percent of its peach and grape crops. Last year, Talbott’s kept 90 percent of its peaches but only 25 percent of its grapes, thanks to a winter kill.

“We’d like to keep 100 percent, but we’re very pleased,” he said.

Bob Helmer of Alida’s Fruits in Palisade acknowledged he hadn’t checked his peaches Sunday morning but said he didn’t think his trees experienced any significant problems. His thermometer read 30 degrees overnight.

Carol Zadrozny, owner of Z’s Orchards on East Orchard Mesa, said apricots were effectively wiped out while peach trees experienced “some thinning.”

“We’re really worried about tonight, for sure,” she said. “We’re hoping for some clouds.”

A freeze warning is in effect until 9 a.m. today for the Grand Valley, the Interstate 70 corridor east to Rifle, the U.S. Highway 50 corridor south to Montrose, Colorado Highway 92 between Delta and Hotchkiss and many sections of eastern Utah. Matthew Aleksa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the temperature in Grand Junction this morning could slip to 28 degrees.

The recent freezes have hit the valley later than normal. The average last freeze and frost dates in Grand Junction are April 6 and 22, respectively, according to the Weather Service.

After today, temperatures will climb and orchardists should be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Highs in Grand Junction could reach 80 degrees by the end of the week, with lows ranging throughout the week from the mid-30s to upper-40s.


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