Late-spring frosts present danger to fruit trees

Created: 04/30/2014 5:28 PM
By: Devin Neeley, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The fruit trees are blossoming already.

“We are a little early this year, a warm spring and the first bloom came about 10 days almost 2 weeks before usual,” Leslie Kerby said.

But Kerby isn’t sleeping much. What is keeping him up at night, is the unseasonably low temperatures in San Juan County recently and the potential damage to his orchard’s crops. He has a frost alarm, with a large digital readout. That alarm can be set to alert at a certain temperature.

“Sometimes we just look at it, don’t even get any sleep, sit there and say oh its 40 degrees and only 8 o’clock at night.”

The only orchard left in San Juan County grows Apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums and more. All those fruits are at risk.

This morning he was up at about 1:00am.

“I couldn’t sleep for about a half hour, hour before that cause [the temperature] was dropping so quick.”

Kerby has a few weapons against the cold that could kill his fruit—and his livelihood.

They use two systems to keep the temps above freezing.

Two huge fans.

“[The fans] alone will warm it up two degrees.”

The 18-foot-fans sit atop 30 foot poles and are natural gas powered.

The fans cause an inversion, drawing air that could be 10 degrees warmer down from higher levels.

Beside the fans, Kerby Orchard has natural gas jets between the rows of trees.

Kerby says the earlier the trees bud, the earlier he has to light the heaters every night.

“Spend a little more money in gas, there’s nights we can spend a thousand dollars in natural gas.”

Nine nights so far this season.

Kerby said his father installed gas lines in the orchard about 40 years ago.

It gets cold at the Kerby Orchard.

“We got down to 19 out here,” he said, of temperatures last night.

The 20 acre orchard sits not far from the Animas River to the south and is bordered to the north by Highway 64.

“I barely held the line last night, it got about a half degree or a degree colder than I wanted down here.” He paused and surveyed the stand of Rome Apples he stood in. “We saved em.”

Thousands have enjoyed fruit from the orchard since 1945. Including countless gallons of apple cider.

So far the apricots are already lost. Also lost the season’s earliest profits from farmer’s markets in Farmington and Durango in mid to late-June and early July. This year Kerby is keeping his fingers crossed for the rest of the crop.

“We still have two weeks to worry.  I can’t guarantee it, but we will have something.”

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