Typically, tiny green leaves and small buds emerging on peach trees are an encouraging signs to farmers. Those little pink blossoms usually indicate that fruit's not far behind. There's one caveat, though. That process needs to happen in spring. Not winter.
The business of growing fruits like peaches and berries in North Texas comes with plenty of challenges. Drought, extreme heat, late freezes, spring storms and high winds have made sport of botching local fruit farmers' efforts.
Charles Kesseler owns Duck Creek Blackberry Farm near Sanger, and during summers, when the weather cooperates, they allow families to pick vine-fresh berries at their place. They also have pecan, apricot, peach, plum and pear trees.
"The exceptional drought, which we went through in 2011," said Kesseler, "not only reduced crops to zero here, but also killed many of my blackberry bushes and some peach trees."
And while recent rains and a mild winter may seem like a stroke of luck for growers, they're actually not. Kesseler's peach trees are already starting to show signs of life, which even after last year's bad crop has him worried.
"Peach trees blooming in the later part of February are in danger of late frosts and freezes, which will kill the bloom or young peach," said Kesseler. "Last year we saw a late freeze in early April wipe out all of the apricots and peaches here in north Denton County, as well as killing about 85 percent of the berry blooms."
Kesseler explains that the last "killing frost" in his area is usually around March 20, so the risk to mid-February blooms is high.
According to the Texas A&M Horticulture Extension, there are more than one million peach trees across the state and annual production typically exceeds one million bushels. And spring frost is listed as the "single greatest factor limiting orchard profitability."
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"How damaging a frost event is depends on how advanced the buds are and the low temperature experienced," says Monte Nesbitt of the Texas AgriLife Extension. "All of the buds on a tree commence their growth over a span of days or weeks. If we can get additional cold temperatures, some of the bud activity may be slowed which would be beneficial. "
Another round of chilly temperatures is expected at the end of the week, with lows in the upper-30's. Hopefully it'll be chilly enough to stave off the blooms.
"We don't need all the buds and flowers to survive to produce a good peach crop," Nesbitt concedes. "In fact, approximately 60 percent of the blooms or fruit will be thinned off anyway. Each year is different, but no doubt, spring weather creates a great deal of anxiety for peach growers in Texas."
No matter how badly we're ready to pack away the parkas, for the sake of delicious Texas peaches and blackberries this summer, let's collectively hope those blooms hide from the cold a little bit longer.