Local orchards think peaches will rebound after last year’s crop-killing cold snap

The Recorder, April 28, 2017, By Richie Davis.

Pink, glorious pink!

A section of the hillside overlooking Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield looks like those pink pussycat hats dotting the national mall in January, and for many, the return of peach blossoms after their freakish absence last spring offers hope that the juicy sweet fruit will be back as well this summer in Franklin County.

Photos posted on the Facebook pages of Clarkdale and Apex Orchards in Shelburne in the past week brought reactions that you could almost hear.

“They made it! Yahoo!” “Yay!” “What a beautiful sight!” “Oooooooooo — I am sooooo happy! I have been worried about the peaches since that cold snap.”

The public’s love of peaches took a cruel turn on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2016, when unseasonably warm temperatures, as high as almost 60 degrees, plummeted to -20 overnight. The year’s peaches were literally nipped in the bud, which had been brought on earlier than usual.
“Last year, there was not even one blossom out there,” says Ben Clark of the nine acres planted with roughly 3,000 peach trees, many of which are now in their full glory, depending on which of roughly 50 varieties you’re looking at. Many are already being visited by native pollinators — a pollination process that will occur over the next several weeks as plums, cherries, nectarines pears, and apples also blossom on various parts of the farm.

“If you get good pollination, you get what’s called shuck split, and the fruit is formed. We should know in a couple of weeks once we see what we have for fruit,” he said. “So far, we have blooms by the thousands that look healthy, and I’m very optimistic. It’s a protected elevation, the warmest site on the farm. ”

You can forgive Clark and his father, Tom Clark, for keeping fingers crossed as they sound optimistic until all possibility of frost, hail and others of nature’s curve balls have passed.

“I don’t figure we’re ever out of the woods until we pick them,” said David Shearer of Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, who harvested no more than five peaches last year, but who is delighted by the buds that he’s seeing have started to blossom out on his roughly six acres of peach trees. “We still have May to get through … Until the end of May, we could have frost.”

Shearer, who typically gets a yield of 300 to 500 bushels of peaches, a crop that’s worth $40,000 to $50,000, says, “Everybody’s excited about whether we’ll have peaches or not. I bet we get three to five people a day who come in who are worried about peaches.”

Bringing in peaches last summer from Pennsylvania for Pine Hill’s market just wasn’t that satisfying, Shearer says, because the fruit is picked early and just isn’t as juicy as local, tree-ripened fruit.

And getting $10,000 to $12,000 in insurance money for the last crop — roughly a quarter of the loss — basically pays for little more than pruning.

“The weather’s sort of a crap shoot these days,” said Tim Smith of Apex Orchards, where the peach trees are just blossoming. Losing last year’s crop, which usually amounts to between 4,000 and 5,000 half-bushels, represented a major loss.

And just to show the complexities of nature for blossoms that have a window of just a few weeks when they need to be pollinated to form fruit, Smith says he’s just gone through a bad winter for bee loss — about two-thirds of his hives, compared to 30 to 40 percent loss in “a good year” and a more typical 50 percent that die off. That problem, in addition to a few hives that were lost to bears, he expects can be rectified by renting some additional hives.

The roughly 1,200 peach blossoms also look good at Hager’s Farm Market in Shelburne, says Albert “Chip” Hager.

“It looks very promising,” says Hager, who remembers growing just two peaches last year — and the crows ate them. He adds, “We’re still at high risk until after they set” with fruit. But we’re way, way ahead of last year.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269