Farmers know very well that there can be too much of a good thing.
This may be the case with the recent freezing weather.
Peach growers spend winter months counting the hours that fall below 45 degrees, and this season is off to a rapid start with several weeks of winter to go. Georgia’s climatologist reports chill-hours are already over 800 in parts of the midstate and south Georgia.
That comes as a relief for growers since chill-hours have been on the stingy side in recent years.
Buds go dormant during the colder months to protect them from hard freezes. Once they get sufficient chill hours, though, a few warm days can awaken them from slumber and make them susceptible to future cold outbreaks.
“We’ll start to worry if we get a warm spell,” said Al Pearson, chairman of the Georgia Peach Commission. “On the positive side, we’re glad to have had a good cold winter and a lot of moisture. We need to recharge the ground after years of drought.”
Pearson Farm grows about 1,300 acres of peach trees around Fort Valley. The Easter freeze of 2007 cost the operation a majority of its crop with a yield of about 12 percent, Pearson said.
While some peach varieties can bloom with fewer than 800 hours, a total of 1,000 to 1,100 chill-hours is more typical in a season, Pearson said. Chill-hours are tracked until mid-February.
While horticulturists have experimented with chemicals to enhance chill-hours, there is no product out there to slow the blooming process, he said.
“You can adjust the pruning schedule and leave trees thicker,” Pearson said. “Delaying pruning long enough may delay blooming, but the size could suffer.”
Dickey Farms’ crews were hand-pruning trees Tuesday near Byron.
“We want this cold weather, but we don’t want it all at one time,” said Robert Dickey III. “The cold has been ideal for us. It didn’t get too cold, but the duration was good.”
From Jan. 2 until Jan. 15, Macon reported 14 days of morning low temperatures below 32 degrees.
“Some warm spells can start the blooming too early, but Mother Nature usually works things out for us,” Dickey said.
As of Tuesday morning, Lane Southern Orchards had recorded 820 chill-hours.
“I guess in this business, you’re always concerned,” said Bobby Lane, who grows 33 varieties of peaches on 2,400 acres in Middle Georgia. “But I’ll tell you this, I wouldn’t change it.”
For Lane, already having adequate chill-hours is better than sweating through not getting enough and ruining a crop.
“A peach will abort in the flower, and it takes leaves to feed a peach,” Lane said.
About a dozen years ago there were not sufficient chill hours, and the peaches didn’t mature, he said.
While temperatures are forecast to be in the 60s this week, Lane is not too worried yet.
“I don’t think you’re going to see much movement because we’re still cool at night,” Lane said. “Obviously we can’t control the weather. They say if you can get through Easter, you’re home free.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.