Mother Nature is amazing
As explained by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Mother Nature has an remarkable way to move trees into dormancy and preparing them for extremely cold temperatures. Amazingly, the plant tissue actually moves water from inside its cells into the spaces between the cells. Why? So that the ice crystals don't damage the cell walls and to allow the cells contents to become denser and actually reduce their freezing point, similar to anti-freeze. By mid to late January trees have reached their maximum cold hardiness which is normally when we have reached the coldest winter days.
Late in the dormant season is when we prune our trees to help shape and invigorate the trees for the coming growing season. We use both air-powered pruning equipment and hand shears. However this winter the extreme cold and deep snow delayed our start of winter pruning later than usual -- plus it’s best to delay pruning to early spring when the risk of severe temperature drops has diminished to reduce the risk of winter injury.
Mother Nature can also be unforgiving
Most apple trees are very tolerant to even extreme cold up to -30C when they are in full dormancy, especially if stays consistently cold and without erratic temperature swings. Remember the winter of 2012? An unseasonably warm winter followed by cold snaps in late spring devastated the apple harvest in most parts of Ontario as well as the northeastern United States. The Kingston Whig Standard visited us to learn how local apple crops were affected.
So far this winter, we haven’t had any ‘January thaw’, which is actually a good thing. Still, winter injury or cold damage can can reduce yields, kill the tree immediately, or cause a shorter tree life expectancy by making the tree more susceptible to pests (ie. cankers and borers). This type of damage won’t be visible until the growing season starts.
During the long hard winter deer, rabbits and even field mice (i.e. ‘voles’) are looking for food; nice apple tree bark or tender buds make a tasty treat. In 2014 a high vole population coupled with a cold winter and deep snow resulted in extensive damage in some orchards. These rodents tunneled up around the base of the trees to the top of the snow layer -- which was so deep that it reached higher than the guards around the trees. They nibbled the bark off and sometimes even girdled all the way around the trunk which is an injury that a tree cannot survive. Last year we caught this emerging problem later in the winter and rushed to put an extra guard on above the first to protect our little trees up as high as possible. In preparation for this winter, we bought even more guards and tried to make sure all of our younger trees were protected.
What's Mother Nature bringing us next?
So what does the Old Farmer’s Almanac tell us to expect for the upcoming spring?
Hope springs eternal
Hmmm….Well farmers are eternally optimistic so here’s what we’re hoping for as our growing season approaches:
Sharing our insights as local apple growers and business owners. Helping folks appreciate and enjoy our farm-fresh experiences, perspectives and products!