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Counting Blessings?

Side Dishes: Vermont orchards tally frost damage

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Premature spring warmth has coaxed many plants into an early bloom. So the predictions of a series of hard freezes this past weekend had the state’s fruit growers nervous about experiencing a replay of the devastating frost of May 2010, which damaged fruit crops statewide.

According to the National Weather Service, the mercury dipped lowest on Sunday night — to 23 degrees in some parts of the state — giving the cold snap the potential to devastate blooming fruit trees and grapevines. Conditions of 25 degrees can damage 90 percent of an apple tree in full bloom.

At Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, owner Bill Suhr and his employees busted out wind machines and a tractor-driven fan to fight the frost, as well as burning round hay bales. The logic was “to generate some heat and some convective movement of air, so potentially the smoke would act as cloud cover,” says Suhr, who checked temperatures every two hours and clocked a low of 26 degrees on Sunday night.

Suhr says different blocks of trees were at different stages of development — from what’s called “pink” to full bloom — and some have visible damage. “There’s only so much you can do to halt Mother Nature,” he says.

In West Charleston, a few miles from the Canadian border, Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider says she noticed some browning on the new leaves of her apple trees. She won’t know the full extent of the damage for 48 hours. “Compared to other parts of the state, we’re not as far along in terms of development,” Leger says. “We’re still in the stage of tight cluster.” But she is “anticipating 30 to 40 percent impact.”

The NWS says temperatures this week won’t even flirt with frost, so let’s hope our growers dodged the bullet.

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