Fighting the frost

By Michelle Costanza

May 13, 2013 Updated May 13, 2013 at 11:53 PM EDT

Chenango, NY (WBNG Binghamton) With the threat of frost overnight Monday, many gardeners headed out to cover their plants. For farmers though, faced with rows upon rows or crops, covering isn't always an option.

Despite the late spring, recent warm weather brought area crops up to speed. But the three-day cold spell -- with temperatures forecast to drop below freezing each day -- could be detrimental for apples and berries.

Due to their tender and vulnerable nature, apple blossoms freeze. Starches and sugars within the plant act as an antifreeze to a certain limit, but below that threshold, they can't survive. The magic number is 28 degrees; if the low temperature doesn't dip below this, the plant can sustain itself through the cold.

Last year, Apple Hills fruit farm lost half their crop after cold conditions revisited in the spring. This year, the farm is doing their best to prevent deja-vu.

"I want to produce as many apples as I can. If it gets down to 27 (degrees), I may not have any income at all this year," said Apple Hills part-owner David Johnson.

There will be no easy way to tell if the plants become damaged because the blossoms will stay bright; they just won't end up bearing any fruit, Johnson said.

Johnson said his apples, cherries and blueberries are on their own to battle the frost. The strawberry crop however, will have some protection.

"I'll be up all night watching my thermometers. Once it gets around 34 degrees, I'll turn the irrigation water on for our strawberries, and there will be a coat of ice that forms. As long as I keep on adding water, they'll never get below 32 degrees," said Johnson.

In a few days, it will be obvious whether these favorite fruits survive.

"The frost would kill all the sensitive structures: There are anthers and stamens, the pollen has a transfer from one structure to the other, but it's all dead tissue when it freezes, so there's no pollination that takes place, and the blossom will turn black," he added.

Usually the first strawberry blossom bears the best fruit, but even if the first few die, there's still a good chance that the other buds will survive and develop berries later in the season, Johnson said.