early risers

With all the warm weather of late, as well as the practically non-existent ‘winter’ that just ended, my fruit trees are breaking their dormancy VERY early—frighteningly early. I have kept some records of bloom dates and spring frosts for the past 9 years in our narrow valley here in Willseyville, New York (historically a zone 5 climate), which show that this year the trees are budding out almost a full month ahead of ‘normal’, whatever that is. We generally can expect our last spring frost to come in the second or even third week of May—-7 or more weeks from now! Our house and orchard are sited pretty much at the valley bottom, so if anyone around here is going to get a late spring frost, it is us. For some perspective, while the young foliage of fruit trees is quite cold-hardy, most fruit tree blossoms will be killed with exposure to a temperature of 27 degrees F or less during bloom time. Right now, all the buds are still tightly closed, so are pretty well protected, but after the record heat of  last week the forecast calls for a low of 17 degrees tomorrow night. If that happens again even once in the next two weeks or beyond, once the trees start blooming, we won’t be eating any fruit this year.

In my orchard, the early bloomers are peaches, nectarines, some of the pears, crab apples, and summer-ripening apples. We had hard frost during bloom in 2009 and 2010, and subsequently had no crop; by contrast last year we had bumper crops of apples, pears, and stone fruits, with no frost at all after the end of April, which was a first in our time here.. In an interesting side note, in ’09 and ’10 many of our forest trees also suffered, as tree species that had leafed out early in the unseasonable heat (in my area the hardest hit were maples, ash, walnut, locust, and sumac) had to start over after their first flushes of leaves were killed by subsequent frosts.

The photo below (taken earlier today) shows ‘Wickson’ crab apple fruit buds at the stage known as ‘tight cluster’:

apple buds

These are the rapidly swelling fruit buds of a ‘Reliance’ peach:

peach buds

…and this last photo shows clusters of ‘Chojuro’ Asian pear buds ready to burst.

asian pear buds

I’m thinking it’s time to start crossing my fingers, or maybe praying to the fruit gods………………………..

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