Orchard owner says crops are faring well this winter

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — When Matt Strite hears weather forecasters calling for several 60-degree days this weekend, it doesn’t make him too nervous.

“At this point, we’re far enough along,” said Strite, co-owner of Strites Orchard. “We haven’t had a lot of snow, but the ground is still frozen. I mean, it’s not as warm as everybody thinks. The top inch or so might be a little muddy here and stuff, but down six inches it’s still frozen.”

Strite, whose recent days are spent mostly preparing vegetable seeds inside a warm greenhouse, says winter has been kind to his crops compared to last season. In December 2015, he recalls several days in which temperatures reached an unseasonable 70 degrees or more, causing buds to form prematurely on his vast rows of apple and other fruit trees.

“And then it was late March (of 2016), we got really cold, down in the lower 20s for two nights in a row,” he added. “We lost two-thirds of our apple crop because the buds froze.”

This year, with overnight temperatures staying consistently cool and often below freezing, orchard workers have been able to prune fruit trees as normal in winter. When trees are dormant during cold months, there is much less risk of spreading disease among trees through the bare sections of limb exposed during pruning.

While Strite is confident his trees have made it out of the “danger zone” for a massive loss this season, he admits Mother Nature is still the boss.

“You never really know,” he laughed. “We are still at her mercy and strange weather can happen at any time.”

Strite says home gardeners may notice bulb-type flowers such as tulips and daffodils begin to sprout early during a mid-February warmup. In that case, Strite says you can protect the plants by covering them with burlap. Then again, Nature has her own ways of protecting herself.

“Even if we were to get cold and it would snow on top of those flowers, the snow can actually provide insulation against the cold air,” Strite said. “They’ll probably live right through it.”

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