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Cold temperatures don't concern some local growers

April 11, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

A killing chill that has decimated some orchards in the Southeast likely thinned out the blossoms on one local grower's trees, but he said he would be doing that anyway.

"If we still have 80 percent of the viable blossoms out there come June, we'll have to knock half of them down," said J.D. Rinehart, who spent part of Tuesday examining blossoms on limbs he cut from trees at Rinehart Orchards Inc. in Ringgold.

Rinehart and other area growers said they think the recent cold snap damaged buds but left more than enough to salvage a crop from the trees.

On Tuesday, Henry Hogmire, an extension specialist for West Virginia University, said it still was too early to tell. Signs of damage will become apparent when the weather warms up, he said.

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According to i4weather.net, a Web site maintained by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, Tuesday's high temperature fell just short of 50 degrees. High temperatures tumbled into the 40s last week.

Henry Allenberg, of Allenberg Orchards near Smithsburg, said tree growers can judge the damage on their blossoms by looking at the flowers' pistols.

"I think the cold might have killed half the buds, but there's still five times or 10 times more than you need," Allenberg said.

Like Rinehart, Allenberg said growers do not need all of the blooms on a tree to bear fruit.

"You don't want every flower to produce a fruit because then there's too many, and they're too small," Allenberg said.

Hogmire said farmers can use wind machines to pull warm upper air toward the trees. The technique, which the West Virginia Tree Fruit Research and Education Center used a few times over the past few days, is only effective on calm nights.

The machines can raise temperatures a few degrees.

Hogmire said tree farmers also sometimes employ low-flying helicopters to push the cold air away from trees and force warm air down on them. Some growers patrol their orchards on tractors carrying portable heaters.

Rinehart said the last time a cold spell killed all of his peaches was in 1995.

His technique for keeping the trees viable?

"Said a prayer," Rinehart said.

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