It was a week ago now. Temperatures dropped to the mid-20’s or lower, and the effect in some orchards was not pretty. Site played a major role in how well apple flowers and developing fruits survived. In the southern part of the state, most orchards fared OK. There was some minor damage, primarily in low spots where cold air settles, but there is still a good crop. In more northern locations, the situation is much less rosy with some orchard blocks nearly empty of fruit now.
An apple, already a few days past petal fall, showing the effects of a hard frost last week. Photo: W. Lord
What is next? Severely damaged fruits will drop soon. Less severely damaged fruits may hang on and grow, but will likely bear russet scars come fall as a reminder of that cold, May morning.
For now it appears that the future will be frost free, but given the spring so far, who knows!
Well, tonight will likely tell the tale. Will this early spring come to a screeching halt due to a hard frost predicted by morn or will we escape? I for one am hoping for some of that wind that has battered us the past several days or a bit of cloud cover to hold the warmth in. Sleepless best describes the night ahead I fear…
Frost has already killed this strawberry flower. Constant irrigation during freeze events is the best protection. Photo: W. Lord
Several insect pests are bugging orchards right now. Petal fall was several days ago in the southern part of the state and I have seen some plum curculio egg laying scars already. This cold has likely slowed them down, but they will hit most unprotected tree fruits over the next week or more.
An Eastern Tent Caterpillar nest in a young fruit tree. Photo: W. Lord
One of the more aggressive leaf eaters is the eastern tent caterpillar. Its telltale nest protects these critters and serves as a home base as they defoliate one or more branches of a tree. I like to pull the nests and their contents off trees and destroy them before they get too hungry.
Fruit growers have been racing down a fine line lately. Fruit trees are early this year with blossom as much as 2 weeks ahead of normal in most orchards. Apple flowers are not very hardy at bloom. Temperatures below 29oF spell trouble.
Frosts and near frosts the past several mornings have left many growers tired and worn. They spend the nights checking temperatures and when temperatures approach the freezing point, they act. If the farm has a wind machine, it it turned on and monitored continuously until the frosting action ends. If sprinkler irrigation is being used, again, it is time to act.
Wind machines work by pulling warmer air from above down and using it to displace colder air settling in around trees. A propeller whirls constantly and it rotates slowly around pushing cold air out in a large circle around the machine. These machines take advantage of the fact that cold air is heavier than warm air. The coldest air will be nearest the ground in the lowest part of the orchard.
This pear survived frost during bloom, but a frost after fruit set severely damaged the developing fruit. Photo: W.G.Lord
Irrigation is more commonly used to protect strawberry blossoms, but works on apples too. A continuous supply of water is applied once frosting conditions are near. Ice will form, but as long as there is free water on the surface, temperatures will not drop below 32oF. Water is applied continuously until all the ice has melted off the flowers.
Low temperatures promise to be more moderate over the next 7 to 10 days. Let’s hope so. Apple growers need the sleep and I want to eat perfect New Hampshire apples come fall!
The blare of yellow forsythia flowers muted by a thin coat of wet snow, bright green blades of grass poking up through a white blanket – you can never describe a New Hampshire spring as boring!
Snow covers peaches in bloom in a NH orchard. Photo: W. Lord.
What does this yo-yo weather mean for fruit crops? That is anyone’s guess at this point in time. So far, so good as low temperatures lately have been cold, but not cold enough to damage crops. Of course, there is a lot of spring left and until we get to late May, growers will be edgy at best.
Pruning meetings, in fact any meetings that UNH Cooperative Extension conducts covering any aspect of home food production, are bursting at the seams, both in numbers and enthusiasm. Uncertainty is likely playing a role in this high level of interest, but I have a feeling that wanting to do something that has real personal value is the main factor driving the interest.
Interested in learning how to grow fruits in your home garden? Attend a workshop on growing fruits at home in Boscawen on April 22 (Growing Fruit at Home Workshop).
The past week of warm weather sure changed the way things feel in the orchard. Plum flower buds at the University of New Hampshire Horticulture Farm are already showing green. Cooler weather this week will will likely put the brakes on things, but wow, spring is bursting out.
Strawberry fields are still mulched with straw, and despite the warm weather of the past week, seem perfectly content to stay covered for at least another week. While we want to get mulch off early so plants can soak up the sunshine and rebuild food stores lost over winter, this is just a bit too early. Unfortunately, deer are out and about in our strawberry fields. Fields are still brown and lifeless, but when deer nose through the mulch covering our berries, they find tender strawberry leaves and crowns that satisfy a spring hunger.
Strawberry plants offer deer a taste of green after a long winter. Photo: W. Lord
A deer nosed though straw mulch to eat a strawberry plant. Photo: W. Lord
UNH Cooperative Extension is offering several more pruning demonstrations for home fruit growers. This coming Saturday, March 28 will sport 2, a blueberry session in the morning, and an apple/peach session in the afternoon (Carroll County Pruning Demos).
Oh, how fickle the spring can be. First a tease of warmth, then a cold slap in the face just to remind one that summer is months away.
The melting snow has revealed some unwanted changes. Voles under the protective cover of snow took advantage of missing or broken guards to sate their appetites for the bark of apple trees. Once a tree is completely girdled, little can be done except to order its replacement and vow to never let one’s guard (vole guard that is) down again.
Well, at least the voles got to eat. Photo: W. Lord
Robins have been constant, noisy companions when I have been out pruning. Fallen apples from the season past have been a welcome treat for them. And the bright flash of that red breast as one flits by is a welcome treat for me.
Interested in attending a demonstration on pruning fruit trees and highbush blueberrries? Follow these links for one in Canterbury on Thursday, March 18 (Merrimack Pruning Demo ) and one in Sanbornton on Saturday, March 20 (Belknap Pruning Demo ).
What a great last week! Temperatures have been mild, snow has been fading gradually away, and the promise of full crops of peaches and blueberries has me smiling. Of course, there is a lot of winter ahead, but one can dream, right?
I have been out pruning with blueberry and apple growers almost daily over the past 2 weeks. How are things looking? Well, I have not seen any obvious winter damage. Flower buds on both apple and blueberry look great, and other than the usual tip burn on blueberry canes that were still growing vigorously when the first hard frost hit last fall, there is no sign of wood damage either. One disquieting thing I have noted is that there are a lot of retained petioles on a few apple trees.
Retained petioles on a Marshall McIntosh shoot are often the first clue that winter damage may have occurred. Photo: W. Lord
Petioles are the leaf stems and they typically drop as part of the leaves in late autumn. When a lot of petioles remain, especially near the tips of shoots that grew really well the prior summer, it is sometimes a symptom of low level winter damage. Usually these retained petioles are accompanied by some irregularly shaped, purplish discoloration in the bark but I am seeing none of that this year. Has there been damage? I don’t think so, but I will be watching closely as trees start to grow and bloom come spring.
I have been doing some pruning over the past several weeks. Pruning is a very relaxing activity for me. I like to approach a tree, make a quick mental note of the problem two or three major branches that need action, and wade in. Of course, my focus is on fruit quality first and foremost.
I spent some time pruning some older apple trees earlier this week. My emphasis was on keeping the tops narrowso that precious sunlight could penetrate the entire canopy. I always try to identify those few branches which, if removed entirely, meet my goals for the tree.
For the tree below, the complete removal of several large branches that are casting heavy shading on fruiting wood below is essential. If the top of this tree is not narrowed, lower branches will quickly become non-fruiting.
Mature apple tree before pruning. Photo: W. Lord
Same tree as above after pruning. Photo: W. Lord
Pruning these older trees takes time and a lot of looking up. The concept of the farmer’s tan fits well here as only the uncovered skin, the face, gets that “been south“ look.
One pleasant surprise so far this winter has been the lack of deer activity in orchards. Oh, there is still some, and in places it is resulting in severe damage to trees, but compared to the past several years, damage is light so far. Orchards and the surrounding woods have relatively light snow cover of late and perhaps that plus a good mast crop of nuts nearby has helped. Of course, the highest risk part of the winter for deer damage has yet to come…
Interested in attending one of the many pruning demonstrations offered by UNH Cooperative Extension? The next one is set for Saturday, March 6 at Beaver Pond Farm in Newport. Follow this link for complete details - Meeting Notice
I put a bag of Honeycrisp apples on the counter just before Christmas and just finished eating the last one – it was still crisp and delicious. Most apples though will not maintain that just picked flavor and crispness very long if kept at room temperature. Keeping apples cold – very cold – is the key to keeping them fresh. Apples you purchase from a local farm stand will likely last at least several weeks in the home refrigerator, but will soften quickly if kept at room temperature. If I had stored those Honeycrisp in the icebox they would have been great to eat even a couple of months after I brought them home.
Mutsu is another apple that stores really well. Like Honeycrisp it will keep in the home refrigerator for several months. It grows well in southern counties, but ripens too late and lacks the hardiness needed for northern parts of the state.
A nice crop of Mutsu apples in a New Hampshire Orchard. Photo: W.Lord
Of course, there are many other varieties that will store well, most ripening in October in New Hampshire. Red and Golden Delicious, the scab free variety Liberty, and older varieties like Baldwin and Northern Spy all have their fans. And always, the key is to get them cold and keep them cold.
Pruning is the next big orchard task, just not quite yet. While temperatures have been uniformly cold for some time now and it is surely safe to prune mature trees, I like to delay pruning until March if possible. Of course, if I have a lot to get done, I have no choice but to get going now; however, I save the younger trees for last. I will list upcoming pruning demonstrations – you may want to join in the fun as I subdue a tree or two.
I just had to lead with a picture of this bin of HoneyCrisp apples on its way to storage. Photo: W.Lord
Do you want to preserve that just picked flavor and crispness of your apples as long as possible?
Of all the factors that affect how well apples keep that fresh-picked flavor and crispness, temperature is the most important. How cold? For most varieties, storage at 32oF or nearly so is ideal.
Why so cold?Apples are alive. They consume oxygen and stored food to produce the energy needed for life. At lower temperatures, this process is slowed way down. As a result they live much longer.
Of course, there is more to it than temperature. High humidity is important too – around 90% relative humidity is ideal. If you are storing apples in a frost-free home refrigerator, placing them in a loosely folded, food-grade plastic bag will help.
Bright red, crisp McIntosh fruits await harvest at a Concord Orchard. Photo: W.Lord
Apple quality this season appears to be especially good. Fruits are crisp and color is exceptional – those cool, clear New Hampshire nights and sunny, warmish days are just perfect for people and apples too.