Fruit growing season off to good start

April 30, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Blessed with warm temperatures, plenty of rain and, in most areas, little frost, the Tri-State fruit growing season is off to a good start, according to growers and fruit experts.

Apple and peach trees are either in full bloom or have completed the blooming, and growers are crossing their fingers that no more major frosts are in store.

The last threat of frost for the area ends about May 15, said J. D. Rinehart, owner of Rinehart Orchards near Smithsburg, Md.

"I guess it was about two years ago on Mother's Day, that frost took out about half our crop. So we're not out of the woods yet," said Rinehart, who grows peaches, apples and other fruit on 800 acres he owns with his father, John.


While some growers have been spared major frost damage, others have experienced some problems.

Two frosty mornings last week caused damage to some fruit trees at the George S. Orr and Sons Orchard near Martinsburg, said Mark Orr. Trees in elevated areas of the orchard were not affected.

Orr said he is looking forward to a good season. He expects to have 75 percent of a full crop this year, which is average.

The Orrs raise a wide variety of fruit, including strawberries, sweet cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, pears and apples on their 1,000-acre spread in the Arden area.

Although the Eastern Panhandle's fruit-growing business has seen dramatic declines since 1987, the Orrs represent growers who have diversified and increased profits, switching to different crops such as Christmas trees, pumpkins and strawberries.

The Orrs are selling their own line of apple butter, fruit baskets and other merchandise at a fruit market on their property, and they sell their own line of fruit products, called My Three Sons, to grocery store chains and markets abroad, said Orr.

After last year's drought, fruit growers are happy to see plenty of precipitation this spring. But it is too soon to tell whether there has been enough rain to replenish ground water supplies.

Rinehart said he uses a simple method to determine whether there is sufficient moisture in the ground.

If water lays on top of the ground after a hard rain, Rinehart assumes there is plenty of water in the ground. If rain water quickly disappears into the ground, as it has been doing lately, Rinehart assumes the effects of the drought are continuing.

"I do think it takes longer than a season to recharge the ground water because we have had several seasons where it's been dry," said Rick Heflebower, a fruit specialist for the Maryland Extension Service in Washington County.

But fruit trees have done "amazingly well" in the recent drought, said Heflebower.

One reason fruit trees can withstand drought is because their roots are able to reach much further in the ground than roots of corn and other crops, Heflebower said.

In Franklin County, Pa., blooming on fruit trees is about two weeks ahead of schedule because of warm weather in February, said Bill Kliner, a fruit expert with the Penn State Cooperative Extension service in Gettysburg, Pa. But the blooming has been held in place since cool weather moved back in, Kliner said.

Kliner expects blooming to resume as temperatures warm up this week.

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