Frozen fruit?

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grapes on vine

SALEM, Ohio — All signs were pointing to spring about a month ago, with March going down in the record books as the second hottest March in 121 years, according to weathertrends360. Then, like a flip of a switch, April rolled in with the most winter-like conditions the Midwest had seen all season.

During the last week of March and first week of April, producers in northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania were seeing overnight lows in the teens. Producers in the South also felt the cold, with temperatures dropping below freezing, but mostly staying in the mid-20s to mid-30s, according to weather.com.

The recent cold snap took its toll on some fruit and grape producers, while others are optimistic their delayed growing season saved them from significant loss.

Grape growers

At the end of March and beginning of April, temperatures dropped below freezing, “but most grapes — except some vineyards in southern Ohio —  were still at the closed or swell stage and were not injured. However, we have another freeze forecast (for the second week of April),” said Imed Dami, Ohio state viticulturalist, in an email prior to the April 9, weekend cold blast.

Critical temps

“At swell stage, buds could survive temperatures in the high teens to low 20s. As buds burst, they become more sensitive to temperatures just below freezing,” he said. Dami said some critical temperatures can cause 50 percent damage to grape buds and young shoots:

At bud burst and with the first unfolding leaf, damage occurs at 28 degrees or lower; after the second unfolding leaf, damage occurs at 29 degrees; and after the fourth unfolding leaf, damage occurs at 30 degrees.

Delayed

Luckily, for most producers in northern Ohio and northern Pennsylvania, buds are still tight, making them less susceptible to frost damage. “Up where we are, by the lake, I’ve been noticing during the days, we are 6 degrees colder up here. We are quite delayed, about two weeks behind,” said Andrew Kirk, research specialist and manager of the Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station.

“We are anticipating that our buds are in a position right now that they can handle the cold,” said Kirk. “If this would happen a month from now, we would be in trouble.” Nick Ferrante, owner of Ferrante Winery and Vineyards, Ashtabula County, said he doesn’t think there is any damage in their vineyard, but added that it could take a couple weeks to know the actual scope of damage. But he is hopeful the winter hardiness of his vines will withstand.

Southern exposure

Kenny Schuchter, owner of Valley Vineyards, Warren County, was a little more fearful of his grape crop going into the weekend. The prior warmer temperatures were starting to wake his 70 acres of grapes in southern Ohio from dormancy . “I’m early. I started seeing buds swell a week ago,” said Schuchter. “It really shouldn’t be happening for another two to three weeks.” He added that few of his varieties were still dormant, but nothing was turning green just yet.

Following the weekend, Schuchter noted temperatures did not get as low in his area as predicted and he feels fortunate that Mother Nature was nice to him. “It really worried me Saturday afternoon,” with the clear skies going into the evening, “but somewhere in the middle of the night, a layer of cloud cover moved in and my low was 32 degrees,” he said.

Critical fruit temps

Fruit production from north to south looks a little more variable following weekend temperatures. According to Penn State Extension, critical damage to apple plants in their early green stage occur at 10 degrees, while 10 percent damage is sustained at 15 degrees. After first bloom, 90 percent damage occurs at 25 degrees, while 10 percent damage occurs at 28 degrees.

Peaches, in the first swell stage, sustain 90 percent damage at 1 degree, and 10 percent damage at 18 degrees. At first bloom, peaches sustain 90 percent damage at 21 degrees and 10 percent damage at 26 degrees.

Temperatures ranged from a low of 16.4 degrees in an orchard in Butler County, Pennsylvania, April 10, to 18.3 degrees in Bedford County and 20 degrees at the Penn State Research orchards at Rock Springs, Centre County, said Robert Crassweller, professor of horticulture, Penn State University.

Fruit production

Prior to the weekend of April 9, Crassweller noted most of the apple flowers in his area were still tight, but he could see some burnt leaf edges. Pears were reported to have some damage and plums were at a total loss in his orchard. Following the weekend, Crassweller noted some of the earlier blooming varieties of apples were the most susceptible to frost damage, but an actual estimate of damage could not be given.

Beautiful blooms

Jon Branstrator, of Branstrator Farm, in Clinton County, said the blooms on his peach trees this year were some of the most colorful he had ever seen. “People were stopping in just to get pictures of the trees,” said Branstrator. Then came the cold.

“This is the first year we have had our orchard frosted out,” said Branstrator. He said some flowers look like they were not harmed while others took on some major frost damage. “It was cold enough to really damage the flowers. To what extent, we don’t really know yet, but they look pretty rough,” he said.

Optimistic

Daniel (Dano) Simmons, of Peace Valley Orchard, Columbiana County, still feels fairly optimistic about his apple and peach crop for the season, but did note some damage to his crops following the recent cold snap. “We had some plums that were out in bloom and anything that was out in bloom received some damage during the cold snap,” said Simmons. “At this point, we believe we still have enough for a full crop of apples; the peach crop is a iffy.”

He noted that anything that blossomed appeared to be dead but the ones that did not blossom appear to be all right. “They were right where they predicted,” he said noting the temperatures reaching 16 degrees for a short time over the weekend before coming back up into the mid-20s.

Just don’t know

Fred Finney, owner of Moreland Fruit Farm, Wayne County, said he has experienced nothing unusual at this point. The cooler temperatures slowed things down, which could save a majority of his crop. “Two weeks ago, we thought things would be opening with the warm weather, but luckily they didn’t. They just kind of went back into dormancy,” said Finney.

As far as damage predicted from the recent cold snaps, Finney said they won’t be able to know for sure until a couple of weeks from now. “This will go down in the record books as having more snow in April than we have had all winter,” said Finney.

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.

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