After good winter conditions, March freeze gives pause to producers
Gillespie County peach growers, a cornerstone of area tourism for decades, are nervous. On Tuesday, they offered reserved opinion after Monday night’s hard freeze and had fingers crossed that the crop could avoid a second straight freeze Tuesday night.
Time will tell, they said, and none wanted to give a hard forecast about the important crop.
Jamey Vogel, a third-generation grower at Vogel Orchards, said Tuesday it’s too early to tell about damage.
“It was definitely not in our favor, but until we’ve had time for things to shake out a few days to check out the buds, we won’t really know,” he said.
“But we were definitely in that area that gives us great concern as far as temperatures. This morning it was probably 22 and it stayed there quite a while,” he said.
The year had shaped up to produce a great crop if the March freeze didn’t damage it too badly. Vogel said the crop had good chill hours and a good amount of moisture through the dormant period. “And we had a really nice bud set on everything,” he said.
Breezes and moisture, as was seen Monday night, can help avoid the damage of a hard freeze.
Some growers took precaution and covered orchards, ran fans and burned fires all night next to the trees.
Case Fischer, of Fischer & Wieser, tried all methods.
“We had a 5 mph wind most of last night and the night before, it was probably 10 to 15 mph,” he said. “The heat pretty much traveled south with the bales we were burning. We don’t have any evidence, but we’re optimistic. We did keep the temperature up, above the ambient temperature, by several degrees.”
With fans running, they maintained moving air, which they hope can stave off damage. On Tuesday, they had planned to do the same routine with temperatures expecting to dip to 27.
Fischer said 80 percent of his trees were in bloom and all had budded out.
“It was kind of like the poker game — we were ‘all in,’” Fischer said. “We just repeat what we did for the first two nights.”
Was it successful?
“We’ll know in about a week to 10 days when we look into the buds,” Fischer said. “I’m not suggesting that we’re not worried.”
Beth McMahon, Gillespie County horticulture agent with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said next week her office will fully assess the damage.
“A hard freeze in March, that’s a scary thing for growers,” McMahon said. “Some of the growers have higher-chill peaches, so we hope those can avoid some damage.”
Brianna Hoge, viticulture program specialist in Fredericksburg, said most grape vines were not quite as far along as peach trees.
“Some of the grape growers had final-pruned already to delay bud break,” she said.
“I have a feeling we’ll be seeing some serious frost injury,” she said. “Some places already had 3-inch shoots and those are definitely not cold-hardy. But I don’t think it’s as bad as it could have been.”
Hoge said 20 degrees was much better than the predicted 16 degrees.
“It also depends more on how long it stays below freezing than what the actual temperature is,” she added.