What’s Happening In The Orchard? – February 2019

Here we are, February 2019, and we have already had almost 30 inches of snow at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard. Of those 30 inches, 23 inches came in 2 snow events just a few days apart changing the landscape from a drab brown to a bright white. I was worried with that much snow on the ground it was going to stick around until May. In typical Nebraska fashion, the temperature took a turn and a couple of beautiful, sunny, warm days melted it all away to make way for the next round which came, and more is still on the way. This brings me to the topic of this month’s installment of "So, What’s Happening In The Orchard?", and how weather affects the orchard.

Every aspect of the weather influences the orchard. Let’s start at the beginning of the year with winter. When I think of winter I think of cold temperatures, snow, and ice. Having snow during times of cold temperatures is better than not having snow. Snow acts as an insulator buffering the coldest of temperatures protecting the covered parts of the plants in the orchard. Snow also provides much needed moisture for when the orchard comes out of its winter dormancy and begins to grow.

Ice on the other hand can have a very detrimental effect on the plants in the orchard. Ice can coat the branches adding great weight to those branches. The increased weight can result in limbs breaking or worse. Whole scaffold limbs can break under the weight of ice affecting the tree for years to come. Ice can also have a level of benefit though. Freezing water releases a small amount of heat and under certain conditions can aid in the survival of flower buds on the trees.

This brings us to cold temperatures. Extreme cold can have both a long- and short-term effects on the orchard. Extreme cold—temperatures colder than 10 degrees below zero can result in flower bud loss reducing the crop. Even worse—these extreme cold temperatures in a worse case scenario permanently damage the trees. This is a very rare occurrence, but it could happen, especially on younger trees.

Wind chills also come to mind when you think of winter. Wind chill is the lowering of body temperature due to the passing-flow of lower-temperature air. It is the transferring of heat away from the body. For example, this year we have had several days at or near 0 degrees. If there was a wind of 10 mph at 0 degrees, it would feel like -16 degrees below zero to us. To a tree or plant, it is still affected as though it were 0 degrees. Plants are not affected by wind chill.

Right about now we are all looking forward to spring. Spring brings us that mixture of winter and summer. We can have times that feel like winter and times that are more summer like. What we hope for is a happy medium. During the spring we receive our moisture via rain and snow but hopefully predominantly through rain. Unfortunately, this rain can be part of some pretty violent storms that can result in heavy wind, lightening, and even the worst-case scenario of tornados and hail. Kimmel Orchard has not been immune to tornados. Several years ago, one went through the property destroying many trees and severely damaging our machine shed.

Spring brings temperature swings that affect the trees adversely. A warm February and March can bring about early bloom. After the trees bloom any temperatures below freezing will have a level of effect on the crop. Losing some flowers or fruit due to cold temperatures is not always bad. This can be a natural way of thinning a heavy crop.

Spring can also bring unseasonably warm temperatures. During bloom, high temperatures can result in reduced pollination and potentially reducing fruit set. High winds hamper pollinating insect from being the efficient work horses that they are. High winds can also damage or blow off the flowers.

Summer can bring the heat with it. Temperatures over 90 can put plants into kind of a short-term dormancy. As temperatures approach 100 degrees and higher the trees can go into survival mode and begin to drop fruit. This is a survival mechanism to ensure that the water that is available will go to sustain the tree and not the fruit.

Again, we have the potential of severe storms producing both hail and tornados. Although rare the results can have long term effects on the orchard. Hail damaged trees often have wounds that may allow detrimental diseases to enter the tree affecting the overall health of the tree.

Droughts also can be a factor through the summer. Reduced rainfall during the summer can be exasperated by low precipitation levels during the winter and spring. Reduced rainfall can result in smaller fruit and dropped fruit. Again, this is a fairly rare occurrence, and we haven’t seen a severe drought in decades.

Now, we come to fall. This is when all the fruits of the year’s labors come together. Fall is a season where everything I have mentioned earlier concerning weather comes into play once again. We hope for reasonable precipitation and seasonal temperatures. The first frost to come will be mid-October.

What we do not want to see excessive rain or snow or early freezing events before the end of October. However, most years the fall is reasonable when it comes to weather.

So, weather plays a significant role in how we manage the orchard. Modern weather data gathering techniques allow us to see somewhat into the future to make plans for what is to come. Are all these predictions accurate—no, but they do allow us an idea of what is to come.  We can make a reasonable plan for the day or maybe even week to come.

Once again, I would also like to take this opportunity to invite everyone out to visit Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard.  We strive to make it a new experience each time you visit us. We guarantee that there is always something new to learn or see at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard.

Vaughn Hammond –Orchard Operations and Education Team Leader

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