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Trouble in apple valley

Spring fever and pulling an all nighter have a different connotation for central New York's apple growers. Spring is when the orchardists put on their lab coats and treat their trees as if each were in Crouse Hospital's intensive care unit for babies.

There are nine stages altogether in a bud's development. It starts with the first sign of the fruit bud as a silver tip that turns to green, which next sprouts a couple of mouse ears or tiny tips of green leaves. Then the worry is on as the bud makes it way through the next six stages, which include tight cluster, first pink, full pink, first bloom, full bloom and finally post bloom. The grower must make sure the flower is allowed to fully bloom, as beehives are brought in to pollinate and the eventual fruit starts to form as a bump behind the blossom to begin its life in the orchard. Meanwhile frost and fungus are lurking, ready and willing to steal the crop away.

It's 24-hour care and exactly where an apple tree is rooted makes a difference too, as Mother Nature isn't a blanket, but a rolling goddess with all sorts of tricks up her sleeves. The growers whose fruit is in the valley along Route 20, such as McLusky and Beak and Skiff's (partial acreage), have to take matters into their own hands when a frost is forecasted. Most of the other growers, such as Apple Acres, Burrell's Navarino Orchards, O'Neill and Beak Skiff's primary orchard have sheltered trees or plantings at higher elevations where frost doesn't settle as easily because the colder air is heavier and tends to roll down into the valleys.

Fighting frost

The actions employed, often in the dark until dawn, are actually biblical in nature with fire, ice, smoke, wind and water as tools. Drive through an orchard on a night such as this and it looks much like a pagan ritual.

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