Local crops OK after cold snap

News-DemocratApril 15, 2014 

Metro-east orchards were prepared for the cold weather that came through the region Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

In Lebanon, Bob Ramsey said his acre strawberry patch at Troy/O'Fallon Strawberries has not bloomed yet and seems unaffected by the cold snap.

"I don't think we were in trouble," Ramsey said. "I think we're OK."

At Eckert's Orchards in Belleville, post-harvest manager Jerry Hearn said the overhead irrigation system created ice that helped keep the strawberry plants warm as temperatures fell into the 30s.

"The strawberries are good," Hearn said. "We put overhead irrigation over them and made ice. The idea is when you make ice, you make heat. It sounds a little funny, but it works as far as protecting the crop. At this time of year, overhead irrigation is the best defense against frost."

However, the previous colder-than-usual winter already has affected some crops. At Braeutigam Orchards, also in Belleville, owner Tom Range said the past winter has hurt his peach trees.

"The winter took its toll on the peaches," Range said. "But the apples should be OK at this point."

Mike Henry, of Simonton Orchards in Okawville, said none of his peach trees have blooms. He said they should have bloomed a week ago.

"The peach crop is gone," Henry said. "It just got too cold in January."

Janice Reinhardt, of Reinhardt's Berry Patch in Alhambra, said she has not planted her 1,000 strawberry plants yet because of the cold weather. However, the recent winter has damaged some of the blackberry plants.

"With such large snow drifts out there, it just broke them over," Reinhardt said. "I don't think it killed them, but I think it damaged them."

Hearn said April 15 is usually the first frost-free day of the season. However, the National Weather Service recorded a low of 32 early Tuesday at the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia.

A frost advisory is in effect for 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Wednesday, when the low is expected to be about 30.

Reinhardt said the hot and dry conditions that usually come during metro-east summers still pose a greater threat to this season's crops than anything else.

"There is no reason not to believe that they will be good," she said. "It depends if Mother Nature is kind later this season.

"You never know what you'll get with Mother Nature."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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