We spend our winters on the farm preparing for the next growing season. We prune trees, fix equipment and order seeds, plants and material to be as prepared as we can be, but ultimately it is Mother Nature that determines when “Spring” starts on the farm. So far, this season (as measured by the trees breaking dormancy and starting to grow) is about three to four weeks early.
It is probably not news to anyone that it has been an unusual winter and spring (it is April 4th and SNOWING!! as I write this.) It was a pretty mild winter, but it was punctuated with some extremely cold nights (remember Valentine’s day weekend?) If you can wear flip-flops and snow boots in the same week, you must be in Connecticut.
What most people aren’t as aware of, is how the weather we have been experiencing can affect our perennial crops for the rest of the season. For instance, the fruit buds that we are counting on to flower and set fruit this for this year’s crop were actually formed last year. The weather conditions and crop load last year determined how many and how strong the fruit buds are for this year. The fruit buds then need to survive the winter and spring cold and frost in order to bloom and set the young fruitlets that will become this year’s crop.
We get one shot. If something happens to damage the fruit buds during the winter and spring we are done for the year. The trees don’t form new buds to replace the ones we lose now.
Needless to say, this can lead to some sleepless nights for us as we sweat out these cold nights. In a year like this, when the trees start to emerge from their winter sleep in March, we have a few additional weeks to worry about until the threat of frost affecting the tender buds and blossoms passes.
Those of us who make our living in agriculture are careful to follow Benjamin Franklin’s advice to not count our chickens before they are hatched. There is a lot that can happen between now and harvest time. Understanding all the obstacles to growing that crisp apple or a sweet, juicy peach makes us appreciate them all the more.