Farmers assess winter’s impact

Winter’s cold grip on the area is most likely far from over and some area farmers are already seeing an impact.

Tom Burch, owner of Hidden Hills Orchard, 5680 State Route 26, said that while the snow hasn’t really been impacting the apple trees, others have been affected.

“It’s usually the peaches and sweet cherry trees,” he said. “They’ve seen some damage.”

Burch said some branches had been cut off of the peach trees so he could get a better look at the damage to the buds. A lot of the buds, once cut open, are brown in the middle, which means they’ve been hurt by the cold weather.

“We don’t know the extent of it yet, but it certainly got cold enough to damage some of the buds,” he said. “We recorded about minus 15 (degrees) here and that’s cold enough to have significant damage.”

Burch added that “minus 18 is about 90 percent bud kill,” which is nearly what the temperature was a few weeks ago.

Burch’s wife, Cathy, said that mid-April would tell the tale of total damage to the 150 peach trees at the orchard, which is when the blossoms should begin to bloom.

“Peaches are more of a hobby,” Burch said, adding that he wasn’t counting on the peach crop; the most important is the apples, which aren’t affected by the cold snap.

Mona Barrett, owner of Sweetapple Farm in Vincent, said her apple trees won’t be prepared until the spring for the upcoming growing season.

Burch added that apple trees are dormant this time of year, meaning they are storing up energy for later in the year when they’ll bloom and make apples.

Despite the dormancy seen in the apple trees, Burch said the trees could be affected by the cold through pruning, which is often done around this time of year.

“They can get pruning wounds,” he said. “The cold can seep in (after pruning) and possibly kill the tree. We started pruning and then suspended it (because of the cold).”

Barrett said some local growers might be facing some challenges with this winter’s snowfall.

“This is a winter like we used to have in the ’90s and ’70s,” she said. “The snow staying on the ground and fields for a long period of time…for right now, it’s difficult for farmers to get out.”

Barrett added that the snow would be good for winter wheat, but might be damaging to the blackberries raised at Sweetapple.

“It will be interesting to see if there is any damage there,” she said.

Levi Morrow, agriculture and natural resources program director for the Ohio State Extension office, said that most crops wouldn’t be affected by the cold because of dormancy. Those most likely to experience an effect are grasses and the fruit-bearing trees.

“For the fruit trees, we have to wait and see this spring what it’s going to be like,” he said.

Tom Witten, chief grower at Witten Farm Market and Greenhouse said the Lowell-based farm market didn’t have to worry about the snowy cold snap.

“We don’t really have anything growing,” he said. “Our strawberries are dormant right now, but the snow adds a layer of insulation.”

Morrow said the snow forms a barrier, ensuring the ground won’t freeze as hard as it might have.

Witten said deep freezes during winter can be a good thing.

“Deep freezes get rid of some of the bugs and grubs in the ground,” he said. “A harsh winter will beat them back.”

Witten said that makes for a better growing season.

This year’s growing season might get off to a slower start than previous years, said Morrow.

“It might stay cooler later,” he said. “(The weather) won’t let the fruit trees come out and bloom, so they’ll have a later bloom…It seems like winter is sticking around.”

Morrow added that a late freeze isn’t totally out of the question.

“It certainly is a possibility, as in any year,” he said, but added, “I just see at least a later start to the growing season than average.”

Witten said they are a little behind on work around the farm because of the cold and snow.

“We’re behind on our work, doing tillage,” he said. “We usually plow this time of year to turn the old stuff over. It’s not an emergency yet.”

He added that work in the greenhouse had been pushed back a week or two to conserve money on the gas bill.

A bit of spring will be seen, inside at least, as planting will soon be getting under way in the greenhouse, starting with cabbage planting today and planting hanging baskets next week.

“It’s exciting to get fresh baby plants in the middle of arctic weather,” Witten said, adding, “We’re real excited to get some seeds in the ground and get some stuff growing.”