In Maine we are hearing about part- to complete failures of apple crops in many orchards throughout the state. The local newspaper reports that this years’ statewide apple crop may have been lessened by as much as 50 percent. When a large agricultural crop fails a farmer can collect on crop insurance, but the possibility of that particular food for us to buy and enjoy is gone.
What happened is Spring arrived early this year. As we marvel over our early daffodil and rose blooms, unfortunately fruit trees bloomed early as well. Most of us northerners who grow fruits intentionally choose varieties suited to a cold climate. These varieties bloom later than trees in warmer areas, hopefully after our frosts are over with.
This year, early warm temperatures brought the trees into an early bloom. Then we had a short span of three days in May in which early morning temperatures dipped below freezing, entirely normal for our growing zone. The frost hit some, but not all areas- Maine has a lot of variety in its elevations and frosts tend to sink into low areas.
The damage is showing up in hardwood trees. In a drive of perhaps twenty minutes, our forester friend, Ron, pointed out to us how here and there but not consistently everywhere, a large maple or oak is entirely covered in dying leaves.
It is very fortunate that the frost was patchy, missing many areas including our gardens here which include a few young fruit trees (the photo is our cherry tree). We were lucky this year.
It has to be heart-breaking to be in the growing business and lose all or most of a crop as has happened to Maine’s apple orchards. But at the same time this disaster can lead us to thinking about how home gardening is different, and more protective.
Unlike larger farms and orchards, home gardeners have a big advantage in terms of variety. Planting a wide variety in small-sized plots can give us a bounty of wonderful foods of many different types. Many yards have space for a fruit tree, several shrub fruits such as blueberries, in addition to vegetable beds. We might also have herb beds, tea gardens, perennial vegetables mixed onto flower beds, and container plants. One weather event may do damage to some, but usually not all of our food plants.
And there are years in which some things just do not grow well. If the squashes yield only a few fruits and not the expected basketful, at the same time the cabbage may have done very well. And so we happily enjoy a winter’s supply of cabbage.
Not only can we achieve a wide variety of wonderful foods to harvest throughout the growing season, but in a sense we provide ourselves with a sort of crop insurance as well. -JMM