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Cold snap nips peaches in the pink

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The pink center stems are still pretty, but the tiny blackened peach embryo that Jack Pratt, Sr., peels this flower to reveal means only one thing: the freeze has killed this would-be peach. Fortunately, Pratt’s examination of other blooms found many with nice green peach embryos that – barring any freeze later in the spring – will grow up to become juicy treats for all peach lovers. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Jack Pratt, Sr., says he doesn’t need to go to Vegas to gamble – he’s a peach farmer. The Tuckers Crossroads orchardist explains that due to the susceptibility of peach blossoms to early spring cold snaps like the hard freeze that struck this past weekend, every season is a gamble, but the potential payoff is just peachy. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
These peach blooms in the Pratt orchard on Trousdale Ferry Road at Tuckers Crossroads had more petals and were healthier before Friday and Saturday night’s hard freezes lasting into Sunday morning. But they’re still “pretty in pink.” Orchardist Jack Pratt, Sr., says nature simply did his fruit thinning for him and, if no more cold spells hit, “we’ll still have peaches.” JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

"Redbud winter" was truly frigid this year, dropping down to 23 degrees around 5 a.m. Sunday, according to Tuckers Crossroads orchardist Jack Pratt, Sr., who used both barrel fires and brushpile fires to combat the hard freeze this past weekend.

It's too early to be sure if some of the fruit from pink-blooming peach trees will survive, but the freezing temperatures damaged at least some of the peaches in local orchards.

At both Pratt's Orchard on Trousdale Ferry Road at Tuckers Crossroads and Breeden's Orchard on Mt. Juliet's Beckwith Road, most of the peach trees were in full bloom Friday - then Friday and Saturday nights the temperature dropped into the low 20s by early Sunday morning.

But Jack Pratt, Sr., is optimistic.

"We'll have peaches, as long as it doesn't get cold again," he said. "They can stand a little cold when they're in bloom. Later, it's harder to get through a freeze."

Spring 'winters' still to come

"Later" may still be an issue, as Pratt's wife Jessie pointed out. "We have all these winters. There's still blackberry, dogwood and stump winter to go," she said.

"Stump winter is the one when you've used up all the firewood, then it gets cold again and you're out chopping on the stumps to get some," she explained.

Wilson County PVA Jack Pratt, Jr., agreed with his dad: "We still have two or three cold snaps to go." But he, too, was optimistic about the family's peach crop.

"Yesterday nipped them," he said Monday, "but some may still have fruit."

You can check the blossoms to see how much damage was done by breaking some of them open. Mary Nell Breeden, who co-owns Breeden's Orchard with her husband Tom, said she had looked at some of the blooms on Saturday morning and they looked okay.

No sure safety until May
"But you can't figure on being safe until May," she said. She recalled that they had actually lost all of their peaches to a late frost in 1983. "It froze on April 19, 1983," she said. "And we lost them all."

She added that people are starting to buy annuals to plant. "I went to Walmart Sunday afternoon and people were buying plants," she said. "It's ridiculous to plant annuals this early, but I guess people are just sick of winter."

Jack Pratt, Sr., said he burned fires in barrels in his orchard on Friday night and a pile of brush early Sunday morning, when it reached a low of 23 degrees.

He hopes that was enough, but he said the wind was against him on Sunday. It was coming out of the east, so it blew the heat from the fire away from the trees.

But he's still hopeful about his peaches. "Some people go to casinos to gamble," he said.

"But I do my gambling on peach trees."

Last year, the Pratts only had a peach yield of about half their usual crop, which they mostly sell to the public on a "you pick" basis. The cause of their reduced harvest was "the same thing," Jack, Sr., said with a wry shrug - an early spring freeze.

'Nature's way of thinning'
Of course, his trees bear too heavily and he has to thin out the extra fruit to avoid the heavy strain on them, so in some ways, this year's freeze was nature's way of doing his thinning for him, noted Jack, Sr.

He, too, opened some of the pink blossoms and about half the time, he found blackened, tiny baby peaches that won't survive. But the other half of the time, he found reason for hope: healthy, green peach embryos.

Jack, Sr., also recalled a tough year for peaches back in the 1980s, but his memory was of the winter of 1984-85. "It got down to 17 degrees one night," he said.

The 1980s were the decade when both he and Tom Breeden first got into raising peaches, Jack, Sr., remembered. They both worked at DuPont, and it became something of a fad at the chemical plant, with fellow worker Hugh Midgett also giving orchard-raising a try.

However, Jack, Sr., said first started being around peach farming when he was a child, because his father Clarence Houston Pratt had a peach orchard, too.

Apples not blooming yet
Both Pratt's Orchard and Breeden's Orchard also have apple trees. But they aren't in bloom yet, so those crops are safe so far this year, unaffected by the weekend freeze.

Peach lovers now have a way to know what's happening with each year's crop, too, at least at Pratt's Orchard.

Last year, Jessie Pratt opened a Facebook page for the orchard and started posting online to let people know when fruit is available That way, she said, "Folks don't have to make the trip only to find out we don't have fruit ripe that day."

The Facebook page is called Pratt Orchard and Garden Center, or you can go to prattsorchard.com for more information.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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cold snap, frost, orchard, peaches, spring
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