Did harsh winter hurt crops?

By Erika Mahoney

March 24, 2014 Updated Mar 26, 2014 at 10:12 AM EDT

Town of Chenango, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Despite what the calendar says signs of spring are scarce.

It's been a tough winter on a lot of folks in the Twin Tiers, especially farmers.

"I'm an apple farmer and so most people just see us when they come to pick their fruit in the fall," said David Johnson, co-owner of Apple Hills. "But to grow proper fruit, you have to be working out in the orchard all year round."

Traces of snow between the rows of apple trees are reminders of the frosty Northeast winter.

"It's been a miserable year. I lost all my enthusiasm to be outside because it's been so cold."

But you can't blame Johnson; working outside was frankly dangerous at times.

So now, Johnson is playing catch up.

"To tell you the truth, since we lost our snow about two weeks ago, I've done more work in the last two weeks than I did the previous two months."

He's been pruning eight hours a day, a task he usually spreads out in January.

And even though it's the end of March, it's still hard to be outside without your fingers turning numb and your eyes tearing up.

"The only question now is whether the cold has been severe enough to hurt our crops."

Johnson won't know until things start to green up.

"I'm very worried about it because it's my livelihood."

He's especially worried about his strawberries.

"When the ground freezes, it heaves. There's a good chance when the soil freezes and expands it's going to crack the roots of strawberries."

But Johnson said he has faith in Mother Nature and will continue to plug away at pruning.

The veteran farmer said if you have an apple tree in your backyard, now is the time to prune it. He added to not be too hesitant to cut it back. Johnson said the old saying is, "if you can throw a cat through the tree without it hitting any of the branches," you're in good shape.

One crop Johnson isn't worried about is blueberries because they are meant to grow in cold weather. And despite the busy few months he has ahead of him to prep for harvest, he's looking forward to summertime when they start selling. He just hopes the frosts are few and the warm-up is slow so that he has time to prep.

Apple Hills has been in the Town of Chenango for more than 150 years. It started as a dairy farm, and now it's a "u-pick" farm. People can start coming to the farm in June to pick fruit. Their cafe -- featuring scratch-made food -- is open year-round.

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