- Story Ideas
- Send Corrections
This past year has been full of newsworthy weather: a freak Halloween weekend snowstorm, a mild winter, an early and dry spring and a hot, dry summer so far. One group that keeps a very close watch on what is happening with the weather – is area farmers.
Any one weather condition can have an impact on crops. But Ed Weaver, one of the owners and president of Weaver’s Orchard, a 107 acres farm in Morgantown, said his orchard has “weathered” the conditions and has an abundance of produce for customers.
For Weaver, probably the biggest story this year has been the fact that there was such a mild winter and both the spring and summer have been dry.
“We pretty much went from fall into spring and skipped winter this past year. That has had an impact on the crops,” he said. Weaver said they had to battle some frost during the spring, but it did not have a significant impact on the orchard’s major crops. Not true in other areas of the northeast, where Weaver said a significant drop in the apple crop is expected.
“It will mean overall the value of the crop is going to be higher,” Weaver said. “On the retail end, we’re seeing 10 to 15 percent increases – and our increases are based more on the general cost of doing business.”
One of the biggest impacts of the early spring is that the crops have been coming in a bit earlier than normal: Weaver said the small fruits, cherries and peaches have been coming in 10 days to two weeks early. The same will be true with apples – expected to come in about 10 days earlier this year.
“It’s nice to get crops out there earlier for customers. But, people get the schedules in their minds, and they could miss something if they’re not aware that they’re coming in a little earlier,” Weaver said. Unfortunately, that also means each crop’s season will end earlier. In the case of apples, he said they expect to see the later apples finish by the last week of October this year. They normally finish by about Nov. 10.
“The challenge when you have an early apple crop is getting good color on the apples. You need cool nights and sunny days to put color on the apples. That’s what brings out the pigment. You need that change in temperature to bring out the color,” Weaver added. He said there are organic options growers can use to help keep the apples on the tree a little bit longer.
“We’re hoping August is cooler than normal, but we have to take it as it comes.”
On top of the dry conditions, the area has experienced several heat waves this summer (three or more consecutive days over 90-degrees), and set a temperature record in Reading on July 7 of 103-degrees.
Weaver said the intense heat can stress fruit trees. “The best thing we can do is keep adequate moisture. Peaches seem to tolerate it pretty well, but sometimes you can see some sunburn on the skin of the apples.” He added that no crops at Weaver’s Orchard were lost to the heat, although the raspberry crop was shortened, “because they ripened so fast.”
Weaver said there is a benefit to a drier growing season.
“In dry weather like this, fruit tastes much better than when it’s too wet. Getting better flavor is one of the benefits of a dry season. It has to do with the amount of sunshine coupled with the dry conditions; the sun helps the whole photosynthesis process, and helps to turn the starches into sugars,” Weaver said. “And the reverse; when there’s a lot of rain and cloudy weather, the fruit swells and is bigger – but still has the same amount of sugar – so it’s not as sweet.”
Weaver said he would rather have a season that is a little too dry than too wet, “because at least we can irrigate.” Weaver’s Orchard uses trickle irrigation versus overhead irrigation, which Weaver said is a way to conserve moisture.
“With trickle irrigation it only goes where it’s needed – under the row or tree. They say you can save 60 percent by using trickle over overhead irrigation. We do very little overhead irrigation – no more than five percent,” he said.
Ed Weaver is the third generation of Weavers to work the farm. His son Justin, production manager, is the fourth generation. Weaver’s Orchard, at 40 Fruit Lane in Morgantown, is open year-round, selling produce, baked goods, deli sandwiches, cold cuts, free-range meat from local Pennsylvania farms and hormone-free dairy products. Weaver’s also offers seasonal “pick-your-own” of small fruits, peaches, pears, apples and pumpkins. For more information about Weaver’s Orchard, call 610-856-7300 or visit www.weaversorchard.com.