Steve and Lyle Johnston of the Apple Castle examine branches of peach trees in their orchard for signs of budding. The severe winter cold may greatly reduce the local peach crop.

Local peaches may be scarce in Lawrence County this summer.

County fruit farmers are watching their peach trees closely, not sure how badly they were damaged by the winter’s extreme cold.

Carolyn McQuiston of Dawson’s Orchards on Petersburg Road, Enon Valley, said her hope for a peach crop is fading.

She explained she is not seeing the swelling of the buds that is normal for this time of year. And no buds on her six acres of peaches means no fruit.

Although budding is about a week late because of the cold spring weather, she said, peaches are usually in full bloom by the end of April.

She is resigned to bringing peaches in from other areas of the state this year.

“We will probably buy our peaches from Chambersburg,” she said, noting this south central area of Pennsylvania was not hit as hard by the weather as the northern and western areas.

McQuiston said that while “I can fight a spring frost by lighting heaters and using a wind machine,” there is no way to fight January subzero temperatures.

One bright note, she said, is that her apple and cherry crops look good so far.

Steve Johnston, of the Apple Castle on Route 18 in New Wilmington, said he knows there will be some damage but he still hopes to get something from his family’s four acres of peach trees.

He noted their nectarine crop also is threatened by the winter cold.

It is too early to know for sure whether the tender peach trees were damaged, he said.

Some farmers take a branch inside and put it in water to see if it will bloom, he explained. But the Apple Castle has several varieties of peaches with varying degrees of cold resistance and it would be difficult to make a prediction using that method.

Johnston said he knows peach trees will experience a 10 percent blossom kill rate for every degree below minus 10 degrees.

And he is hopeful because “the coldest we got was minus 13.”

But the uncertainty will continue for a few more weeks as he and his father, Lyle Johnston, watch their trees and hope for buds.

The elder Johnston said that many — even a majority — of the buds on a peach tree can be lost and fruit production still remain good because trees produce more blossoms than they need.

However the pattern of the remaining good buds will determine the fate of the crop, he said, adding he is still hopeful.

Peach trees are among the most difficult fruits to grow here, Steve Johnston said, because they are less cold tolerant than the apples, cherries and pears grown at the farm.

And Lawrence County is pretty much at the northernmost limit of where peach trees will thrive, unless they are near bodies of water, he added.

If the peach crop fails, they will sell peaches from other areas, the Johnstons said.

And even for the tougher fruits, Steve Johnston said “Tuesday night was a little scary,” as temperatures dropped to 20 degrees.

Otherwise, he noted, he is looking for a good season.

But he’ll be keeping a close eye on the thermometer as their 17 acres of apples get closer to bloom time, he said, because a dip to 28 degrees or less could mean more damage.


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