Apple growers vigilant as cold threatens
CAPITAL REGION Larry DeVoe wasn’t expecting to get much sleep last night.
With near record-low temperatures forecast for the Capital Region, the owner of DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchards in Halfmoon planned to keep a close eye on the thermometers he has positioned amid his apple trees.
Last year, he lost 90 percent of his apple crop to frost.
Overnight, the National Weather Service was predicting a low of 32 degrees for Albany. Farther north, temperatures were expected to drop into the upper 20s. There was also a chance of snow in Vermont.
Once the temperature slid to 34, DeVoe planned to turn on his wind circulation machines in hopes of keeping this year’s crop of tender new apples from freezing.
The machines, which look like wind turbines, pull warmer air down toward the ground and, ideally, boost the temperature of the lower air enough to prevent frost in a 10- to 15-acre range.
Jeremy Knight, of Knight Orchards, had plans similar to DeVoe’s.
Three-quarters of his 2012 apple crop was wiped out by a late frost, prompting him and his brother, Joshua, to purchase a 30-foot-tall wind machine to help stave off another weather-induced disaster.
“I think we’re right on the edge,” Knight predicted. “I’m not as concerned as I was last year. I knew we were going to get burned last year.”
It’s expensive to run wind machines, but DeVoe, who has two, said it’s a cost that can’t be avoided.
“I’ve seen nights where we’ve probably, in a sense, wasted some of our fuel, but you can’t take the chance because it can hover there around 33, 34 [degrees] until just about daylight. Just about daylight, I’ve seen it drop 4, 5, 6 degrees in just a few minutes, so you’ve got to be running,” he said.
The majority of petals have dropped off the blossoms in DeVoe’s orchards, but the petals aren’t what need protecting — it’s the fruit, he said. When the blossoms are in bud form, they offer the tiny new apples some insulation.
“It seems as though over the years we’ve gotten more damage after the petals fall than we did up through bloom,” DeVoe said. “As soon as the petals fall, there’s nothing
there to protect anything, because it’s just a little, small apple starting to grow.”
Freezing temperatures aren’t unexpected at this time of year, Knight noted.
“We’ve had freezes as late as the last week of May, so we’re right in that gray area. Anything can happen. Nothing really surprises me anymore,” he said.