Kentucky orchards survive April cold snap

Published 6:51 am Sunday, May 2, 2021

While late April brings to mind thoughts of warm weather, blooming flowers and summer waiting in the wings, a late season snow this week left local orchards working to protect their crops.

Kevin Trunnell, owner of Trunnell’s Farm Market in Utica, said Thursday that he has a peach orchard and also grows strawberries, two fruits known to be sensitive to cold snaps.

“The peaches have actually finished blooming and they have small peaches on the trees now,” he said. “The strawberries have been blooming for a while, they have fruit and they are still blooming.”

Trunnell said he uses row covers to help keep is strawberries thriving.

“It is a thin piece of cloth material that we pull and stretch over the strawberries and then hold it down with sand bags,” he said. “What that does is it kind of traps the heat that is already in the soil.”

The concept is not all that different than someone putting a blanket over someone who is cold to help hold in their body heat.

Trunnell said the row covers can increase the temperatures around the strawberries by around two to four degrees.

“When they are teetering on that freezing mark two to four degrees means a whole lot,” he said.

Regarding his peaches, Trunnell said that while some farms and orchards utilize a variety of techniques to protect their peach crop during a late frost, he still goes about it the old-fashioned way.

“We personally don’t have any type of protection for our peaches,” he said. “We are at the mercy of the weather.”

Billy Reid, the owner of Reid’s Orchard in Owensboro, said Thursday that while he broke out the row covers to protect his strawberry crop, the weather was not quite cold enough to harm the peaches.

“When you have a frost, it doesn’t affect the peaches because you are talking 5 feet off the ground it could be 34 degrees and then right on the ground where there is no wind it could be 28 degrees,” he said Thursday. “Freezing is a different story. That is when the stuff in the trees is going to freeze.”

Last month, Reid’s Orchard deployed its Frost Dragon in an effort to keep the peach trees from freezing. The piece of equipment burns propane to generate heat, blowing warm air out onto the trees. The frost fighting machine is pulled through the orchard by a tractor.

Trunnell said he has started putting vegetable plants and flowers back out for sale after moving them into a greenhouse for safe keeping.

“It looks like the weather is going to cooperate and the weather is going to stay high enough at night that we can put everything back out now,” he said.