Farmers rush to protect crops before freezing temperatures | Local News

Farmers across the region rushed to protect their crops on Wednesday as freezing temperatures overnight threatened the viability of their young produce.

The Pittsburgh National Weather Service issued a frost warning that was expected to drop temperatures to 27 or 28 degrees early Thursday morning and potentially damage sensitive vegetation.

This worried Scott Simmons as he wondered if the potential for a hard frost would cripple his apple crop at Simmons Farm just as the trees were flowering.

“It’s a little worrying. Our apple trees are in full bloom, so they’re very sensitive to cold temperatures and we really have no way to protect them,” Simmons said. “We can’t do much. It would be a disappointment if we lost them.

He hoped the location of the apple orchard on the hills atop his farm in Peters Township would protect some of the trees as colder temperatures descended into the valleys around the property. However, he said the farm had already lost most of its peach harvest this year after previous cold spells.

Most farmers are used to frost advisories at this time of year, so Simmons was surprised by the larger frost warning. Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the Pittsburgh Weather Service, said when temperatures drop below 27 degrees and frost sets in, many crops can be at risk if not properly protected.

“With frost, even small farms have a pretty good handle on protecting their crops from that or the fruit trees. Freezes are much harder,” Hendricks said. “Some of them use sprayers to keep the ice[around them]but that’s a lot more equipment they have to buy. There really isn’t much you can advise people about freeze warnings. »

Simmons and his workers spent the week shielding their burgeoning sweet corn with rows of plastic coverings, while planning to spray strawberry fields with water to provide an icy protective barrier against the temperatures.

“The gel is a little easier to control. With a frost, if it’s windy, we have a hard time getting water. That could be a problem,” Simmons said.

Mark Duda, co-owner of Duda’s Farm near Brownsville in Fayette County, said they had been preparing for freezing temperatures for several days by covering their fields with vegetables while delaying the planting of other crops. Workers spread large, fabricated agricultural blankets 50 feet wide and 1,000 feet long over their fields of corn, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

“We’re using it anyway, because it’s not uncommon with the cold temperatures right now,” Duda said while admitting the freezing temperatures could still cause problems. “But even with this (temperature), it could be damaged by this cold. … I have covered and protected everything that needs to be protected.

Duda said cold weather coupled with wet conditions this spring delayed their planting season. They decided to wait to plant their zucchini, peppers and tomatoes knowing that the temperatures would be freezing during the second half of this week.

“I would like to have tomatoes in the ground, but the weather was so bad that we didn’t even have a window to put them in the ground,” he said. “We’re a bit behind schedule because Mother Nature has been tough on us so far. It was so cold and so wet.

But that won’t necessarily delay them when they open their farmers market at 157 Creek Road in Luzerne Township for today’s season. They’ll still have starter plants and preserves, hoping flowers will be on sale soon as Mother’s Day approaches.

“We have a huge exhibition area where we normally put apartments and flowers. We don’t put anything outside yet. You would have to walk it in and out,” Duda said.

Both Simmons and Duda said they plan to plant more other crops next month when temperatures are a bit more consistent for the growing season. People planting vegetable gardens or flower beds around their homes are generally advised to begin this process in mid-May.

While a hard freeze in the Pittsburgh area in late April is unusual, it’s not unheard of at this time of year, according to Hendricks. There have been eight days in May since 1876 when the low temperature has been below 30 degrees. The last time this happened was May 9, 2020, when the temperature hit a low of 28 degrees.

Hendricks said the low temperature reached early Thursday would vary depending on location.

“People in the valleys are the ones most likely to have lower temperatures,” Hendricks said of the cold air settling at the lowest points. “There may be isolated spots where they approach a hard freeze.”

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