Climate Change and the Spring Orchard

Goofy weather! The winter that almost wasn’t, coaxed even the most native of plants — who we feel should genetically know better — into early bud break: both leaf and flower.

Crab Apple Blossom Drop

Apples, for instance, blossomed 2 weeks earlier than their previous earliest date. Our Meader Persimmon, a grafted select variety of American Persimmon, broke leaf bud almost a month early, as did our young Asian Persimmon.

Planted off the western wall of our home, our Greek figs already had 61 large, quarter sized figs beginning to ripen. Very nearby, a temperate Banana had already risen to 3 feet, sheltered between the figs and our back wall.

Things that seem to be too good to be true, often are!

On the global scale, climatic forces keeping the Arctic Oscillation weak (allowing the jet stream to reside much further north than usual, causing winter fronts to remain far to our north) dissipated. The jet stream shifted south, and in mid-April, we went from prolonged, sweltering temperatures in the 80’s (F) to approaching cold fronts carrying frosts.

Two of these cold fronts came, 8 days apart, freezing tender leaf, flower and fruit.

At Barefoot Permaculture, we scrambled to protect our tender rooted friends. Leaning bamboo up against the rear wall of our home, we formed an inverted half-cone around the figs, and draped them with a lightweight remay fabric.  We put up caging around the very tender Asian Persimmon, and then covered it with fabric.

Protecting Treasured Figs

For our 8’ grafted American Persimmon, we set up our two 3-legged orchard ladders around the tree, and draped the framework with fabric.

Creative Persimmon Protection

In all cases, the fabric needed to be held above and away from the vegetation, less the frost transfer to the touching vegetation.

We made it through two frosty mornings with minimal damage. As the front passed, and the weather began to warm, we dismantled the coverings, breathing a sigh of relief and thanksgiving.

Then, news of a second cold front arriving the next week, when I would be away teaching a natural foods cooking class at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

On her own, Chiwa would have to re-protect our most tender of treasured plants again.

And again, we were most fortunate to avert loss, other than minimal.

  Local Phenology
Local wisdom speaks of “Blackberry Winter”, an out-of-the-blue cold snap that occurs at the time of blackberry blossoming. These last two damaging gasps of winter coincided with the blooming of Blackberries.

As of this writing (13 May, 2012) the most recent cold front temperatures remained above the mid-forties (for east Asheville).

That, coupled with no further local wisdom “winters”, has us counting our blessings and breathing big sighs of relief.

We have friends who lost most of their fruit in these 2 last freezes…

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About goodheart

Education: Warren Wilson College (BA Environmental Studies) 1987: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (MSc. Natural Resources) 2005 Permaculture Design Certificate (The Farm, TN) 1994 Presidential Volunteer Award: 2005, 2006, 2007 Experiences: National and international Permaculture teacher and practitioner since 1995; Sustainable land use and permaculture consultant; International consultant for small plot sustainable agriultural projects; Home orchard consultant; Endangered species observer for sea-turtle and whale projects; Field biologist and naturalist; Gourmet natural food chef and teacher; Home baker (artisan breads) brewer & fermenter; Home orchardist; BeeKeeper; Ecological gardener; Broom-maker in the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and general bio-philiac...
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