If you think this recent spate of cold weather is inconvenient as you bolt from your front door to your car, be glad you're not a peach farmer. The recent unseasonably warm weather followed by snow and freezing rain has area farmers scrambling to protect their coming harvest. Stone fruits planted for early harvests have already been affected, while subsequent cold snaps could impact remaining crops.
Ken Halverson owns Larken Farms in Waxahachie. He says the cold weather has already hampered his farm of more than 10,000 trees. Larken says the recent 80-degree weather was enough to cause the buds to swell on 10 percent of his trees, and the subsequent freeze killed that crop off. The fruit he was expecting to harvest in late spring are lost. Now, Halverson says he won't have any peaches until June at the earliest.
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Strawberries are under attack by the cold weather too. Bobby Bever, a partner and farmer at Highway 19 Produce, says their strawberry crop has been set back by recent weather. Stawberries are affected just like peaches -- freezing temperatures kill the flowers that would later turn into fruit -- so he's been covering his plants with a polymer cloth. The blanket may not compare to that down-stuffed duvet cover you pull up to your chin at night, but Bever says it keeps the plants about 3 degrees warmer than the surrounding air. Sometimes, it's enough.
Halverson has his own ways of protecting his fruit trees: He lets them cozy up to a nice smoky fire. At regular intervals through his orchard, Halverson says he burns a mixture of charcoal wood and wet hay. The smoky flames are just enough to keep his trees above the freezing point. He also sprays them down with his irrigation system, because the water in the ground is usually a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature.
Protective measures can only do so much, though. Halverson says a freeze over the next few weeks will kill off potential blossoms on more of his trees, pushing his first harvest till June or later. Strawberries are more resilient. As long as the temperatures stay above 17 degrees, strawberry plants will start to flower again when the mercury rebounds.
New strawberry flowers only take three weeks to produce berries. Once a peach blossom is killed, it's done for the rest of the season.