Stan Brown, owner of Brown’s Orchards and Farm Market, checks apricot blossoms for frost damage on Wednesday. He found several affected blossoms.
Stan Brown, owner of Brown's Orchards and Farm Market, checks apricot blossoms for frost damage on Wednesday. He found several affected blossoms. (Photos by Bill Kalina — bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Stan Brown walked through his apricot orchards Wednesday, but it wasn't to enjoy the view of blossoming fruit trees.

Instead, the owner of Brown's Orchards & Farm Market in Loganville spent the afternoon assessing damage caused by a cold snap that sent overnight temperatures below freezing.

Following a sunny start to the week with 80-degree heat, temperatures sank Tuesday night to the high 20s.

The wind kept frost from settling on the fruit trees, but some of the buds still froze.

"We're within the range of a 10 percent loss, and we're not out of the woods yet," Brown said.

The region has been under a ridge of high pressure and northwestly flow that is keeping lows around freezing until the weekend. Overnight temperatures will warm up to the 40s on Friday, said Joe Ceru, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

One of Brown’s Orchards and Farm Market’s apricot trees.
One of Brown's Orchards and Farm Market's apricot trees. (Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Until then, Brown and other farmers said they're crossing their fingers and hoping a frost doesn't zap their fruit trees.

"It's a serious concern," he said.

Brown was more worried about Wednesday night's frost warning than the colder temperatures Tuesday night.

"At least Tuesday night it was windy and the frost couldn't settle. If frost settles, it can actually kill the buds even more. Frost is more damaging than the cold," he said.

Vulnerable: It's especially a problem for apricot trees because they are the first to blossom, Brown said.

Trees growing peaches, plums, cherries and nectarines are also vulnerable.

"It's bizarre," Jane Lehman said of this year's growing season.

The self-proclaimed "keeper of the land" at Raab Fruit Farms in Dallastown said farmers are being forced to adapt to a pattern of extremes.

"It's either really hot, really cold, really wet or really dry. Abnormal is the new normal growing season," she said.

It will take days to fully assess how weather has affected the crop at her farm, Lehman said.

"We had ice on the trees at one point, and this weekend it was hot. The changes haven't been gradual," she said.

Staying positive: At Flinchbaugh's Orchard and Farm Market in Hellam, farmers were choosing to be optimistic.

"I think we'll be OK. We're hoping temperatures don't go below 30. We always hold our breath this time of year," said manager Julie Flinchbaugh.

Farmers typically don't use an entire crop, she said. They thin the trees to about 80 or 85 percent because anything more is too much for the trees to manage, she said.

"So we'll see this as a natural thinning of the crop. But we hate to say that's what we want because of the risk of losing it all," Flinchbaugh said.

The owner of Hartman Fruit Farm in York Township said he'll be checking his orchards at 5 a.m. daily to assess the damage.

"I'll feel the leaves and see what I'm dealing with. The colder it is, the heavier the frost," Sam Hartman said.

He said he's worried, but there's not much farmers can do about the weather.

"We're the biggest gamblers in the world," Hartman said.

—Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.