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Fruit growers report damage from freeze

Full impact may not be known for days

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

Area orchardists are reporting Tuesday morning's freezing temperatures did some damage to their fruit trees.

However, the full extent may take a couple of days to determine.

Vegetation is susceptible to damage when 27-degree and lower temperatures are sustained for three hours or more, according to a freeze warning from the National Weather Service website, weather.gov.

Temperatures of 26 degrees were recorded in Edinburg, Fort Valley and Winchester, National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Witt said Tuesday afternoon. It got down to 28 degrees in Woodstock, and 30 in Front Royal, he said.

Weeks of warm weather had coaxed many fruit trees to bloom about a month early, orchardists have reported.

"We had about a 26-degree temperature, which was a little lower than we had expected," Harman Brumback, one of the owners of the Woodbine Farm Market outside Strasburg, said Tuesday. "It's really hard to tell yet how extensive the damage is, but we definitely have damage.

"I think we've still got a crop of apples and peaches both. I think the cherries took it pretty hard. The plums, they came through OK. They're on hills, and they seemed to come through OK."

Brumback expected to have a better grasp of the damage this afternoon.

"It takes a little while for the fruit to really respond to the damage," he said. "You can go out there and find dead blooms, there's no question about it."

Marker-Miller Orchards partner John Marker was also not yet sure of how much his peaches and apples were hurt.

"We've still got a crop," he said. "When temperatures get that low, you expect some damage. Just can't take any more of [the freezes], but we've got a ways to go yet."

Down in Quicksburg, Paugh's Orchard's trees seemed to handle the cold pretty well.

"As far as we can tell right now, the fruit hasn't been hurt," Ima Paugh said. "We've taken several little seeds off and cut them off, and we haven't found any that was black inside.

"We're kind of on a hill, so we're hoping maybe there was enough air flow that might have protected it."

She said the orchard's peaches had already bloomed, but the apples hadn't.

Associate Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for horticulture Mark Sutphin said he spent most of Tuesday inspecting crops. His territory includes Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page counties. He said a better assessment would take a couple of days.

While there had definitely been damage to a few blossoms, that's not necessarily a bad thing, Sutphin said. He said some blossoms are typically thinned by hand or with chemicals to allow other blossoms' fruit to get bigger.

"At this point, we've seen some loss of blossoms, but it may just be free thinning," Sutphin said. "We still have a long time before the last frost-free date, which is typically middle of May."

There are no freezing temperatures forecast for the remainder of the week, Witt said.

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