Farmers report fruit harvest losses

By JOLENE CRAIG

jcraig@newsandsentinel.com

MARIETTA – Below-freezing temperatures in the Mid-Ohio Valley this winter haven’t affected some fruit crops while others did not fare so well, according to local growers.

“The cold hasn’t hurt the apple crop – the trees can tolerate it, but the peaches are a total loss,” said Tom Burch, owner of Hidden Hills Orchard in Marietta. “I think the same is also true for the sweet cherries, too.”

Burch said the fruit of peach trees only comes from first-year growth and is susceptible to cold temperatures, partly because the fruits grow from the most exposed part of the tree.

“We have taken buds from several trees, cut them open and looked at it under a microscope, and it appears they are all dead,” he said. “I was at a farmers’ meeting last week and it is pretty much the same for the whole state of Ohio – there will be no peach crop this year.”

Burch and his wife, Cathy, have 150 peach trees of two varieties – Glowing Star and Blazing Star – they believe are a complete loss for this season’s crop.

“We have even tried clipping limbs and placing them in water in our home to see if the buds are viable, but they aren’t blooming, which means they are dead,” he added.

Along with the peaches are the 80 cherry trees, including sweet varieties Rainier and Skeena that are likely not going to bloom, Burch said.

“We haven’t tested the cherries yet, but the sweet varieties tend to be affected by the cold around the same temperatures of peaches, so I am sure they are a loss, too,” he continued.

Temperatures tend to have a negative impact on peaches between 10 and 20 degrees below zero and Burch said he recorded minus 16 degrees one night during the January polar vortex.

“Apples have always been in Ohio and tend to do fine, even when winters have been as cold as what we just had, but peaches and certain cherries are more of a southern crop and just can’t handle the colder weather,” Burch said. “Really, in Ohio, you can only count on a good peach crop every three years.”

Luckily for the Burches, both the peach and cherry crops are grown more as a hobby than for money.

“Both the peaches and cherries just pay for themselves, so the loss doesn’t hurt us, but it is unfortunate,” Burch added.

Hidden Hills Orchard, which is located at 5680 Ohio 26, is expected to have a full crop from it 5,000 dwarf trees, which includes 20 varieties ranging from tart flavors of Granny Smith, Gold Rush and Honey Crisp to sweet both Red and Golden Delicious.

Area grapes are also expected to have a good year, as one local vineyard anticipates a full harvest in the summer and early autumn.

“So far, I haven’t seen any problems from the extreme cold,” said Candy Brandy, grower and co-owner of Winetree Vineyards in Vienna.

Both Winetree Vineyards and Hidden Hills Orchard are in the process of pruning, which is typically done with all fruit-bearing plants in order to improve the quality of the crop, general health of the plant and rid the plant of damage, and allows Brandy and the Burches to see if and how much damage has been caused by the cold weather.

“When pruning, you look for the cut to show green, healthy plant and, so far, I haven’t found a dead plant or even one with much damage,” Brandy said.

Both Brandy and Burch said this is the coldest winter they have experienced since becoming farmers; Winetree Vineyards began when the vines were planted in 2007 and the Burches purchased Hidden Hills Orchard in 2010 from former owners Andy and Kate Grimm, who had called the farm Grimm’s Green Acres.

“I expect a full harvest this year, despite the bad winter,” said Brandy. “I look forward to having 700 gallons of juice to make into wine.”

Although both apple and grape crops made it through the worst of the winter weather Mother Nature threw at the area, there is the possibility of a loss later in the season, according to both Brandy and Burch.

“As long as we don’t get a hard frost after it warms up, the apples will be fine,” Burch said.

Brandy echoed the sentiment.

“A hard spring frost is the grapes’ worst enemy,” she said. “But, our location seems to benefit us because when other vineyards throughout West Virginia have had a total loss of crop from frosts, we have only lost a little.”

Brandy contributes the vineyard’s placement with a southern slope as well as warmer airflow from nearby Interstate 77 with helping to save the crop from frost.

“We have no proof that the Interstate helps, but that is the only thing we can think of,” she said. “Really, this has been an interesting endeavor and we will see what this year brings.”