Growers fight the freeze

Apricot losses are heavy; peaches hang on

Faced with a second night of plunging temperatures, farmers in the east end of the Grand Valley expected to stay up for the second night in a row Friday, carefully watching fruit trees and preparing to do whatever possible to save blossoms from freezing.

Several farms reported near-total loss of their apricot crops after temperatures dropped below seasonal averages to the low 20s Thursday night into Friday. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures were expected to be in the low to mid-20s again Friday night and early this morning.

Carol Zadrozny and Richard Skaer, owners of Z’s Orchard on East Orchard Mesa, lit their smudge pots around midnight Thursday in an effort to save their apricot crop. The heaters at Z’s burned the rest of the night, but nearly all of the apricot crop succumbed to the cold.

“We have about 10 percent left, but the cost of burning the pots a second night almost isn’t worth it,” Zadrozny said.

Richard Mowrer of Mesa View Orchard also reported his apricots as lost, as did Bob Helmer of Alida’s Fruits.

Helmer and Mowrer, however, said losing the apricots would not be nearly as detrimental to their business as losing the peaches. The farmers remained confident the peaches would sustain minimal damage from Friday night’s expected low temperatures.

“It may damage the leader blossoms, the ones already in bloom, but the rest should be OK,” Skaer predicted.

“I don’t think we’ll have a total loss, but some varieties may be hit pretty hard,” Helmer said, less optimistically.

Mother Nature has a way of protecting the peach blossom buds, especially when the cold lasts for consecutive nights, Mowrer said. Peaches probably are safer when the cold lasts more than one night, he said.

Farmers hoped for moisture in the night air, which will help protect the blooms and raise the temperature a few more degrees, keeping the flowers from freezing.

Smudge pots aside, one thing farmers can do is start their gasoline-powered wind machines in an effort to raise the temperature of an orchard by a couple of degrees. Wind machines, though, are only effective if the wind is not already blowing.

The Weather Service predicted winds in the Palisade area would be 6 to 12 mph overnight Friday.

“I expect we’ll be up all night again, but we’re expecting only marginal freezes,” Skaer said.
Zadrozny said the second all-night orchard watch is usually more subdued, but that there is always a lot of adrenaline and worry.

“We really can’t sleep. We’re calling the neighbors, checking the Weather Service and eating doughnuts,” Zadrozny said.

Mowrer said he is always listening for the neighbors to start up their machines.

“It doesn’t hurt to be first to fire them up,” Mowrer said. “But you’re always waiting to see what the neighbors are going to do.”


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