Once-in-a-lifetime late spring freeze damages crops

By: Mike Girard


Twitter: @MikeGNews

Lunenburg County farms and vineyards suffered varying degrees of crop damage after an "unheard" of heavy overnight frost, June 4.

The temperatures that night dropped as far as -5C in low lying areas.

Lisa Osborne and her husband own a vineyard in Upper LaHave, Nova Scotia and are among those who awoke in the morning to find damage to their plants.

As Lisa walked through her vineyard she pointed to small buds on her vines. Right now, they are still protected, however, should another frost occur next week they would stand to lose the year's entire growth.

"We really won't know the cumulative impact of this frost until we are finished harvesting in mid-October," Osborne said.

Osborne says Sunday night's frost took its toll on their bottom line.

"As it is, we took a $2,000 to $3,000 hit Sunday night. Our secondary fruit should make it through the frost that's being called for tonight, but again, it's difficult to predict the outcome in the fall," concluded Osborne.

Glenn Hebb of Indian Garden Farms in Hebbville told LighthouseNow that "a heavy frost this late in the spring has never happened before to my memory."

The fifth-generation farmer reported that his crops fared well, with minimal loses.

"We have a water pump system that I'll turn on when the temperatures hit the freezing mark. The water carries a lot of heat and so as it falls on the plants it will keep them from freezing," Hebb said.

"We set those up at the start of every spring; some years we use them a lot, other years not at all. We've had them on eight times this spring, and I've never, never, had to turn them on this late to protect my crops from frost."

Hebb said he and his son worked through the night watching the crops, gauging temperatures, and ensuring their pumps kept working.

Even so, Hebb said there were pockets of his strawberry crops that were at a lower elevation that suffered, "but the financial hit wasn't enough to worry about. Now, if we didn't have the irrigation system, that frost would have wiped out $30,000 in strawberries alone, easy."

His apple trees might turn out to be another story.

"I had an apple orchard expert come out and look at my trees Monday morning. He said he doesn't know what to tell people because the region has never experienced this late of a frost. We've seen apple blossoms in the pink destroyed by frost, but actual apples turning black from frost ... no one knows what to expect come harvest time in the fall," said Hebb.

Elspeth McLean-Wile told the LighthouseNow that her farms in Laconia and Wile's Lake experienced different outcomes.

"The crops in Laconia are situated on land at a higher elevation than the Wile's Lake crops, and so the temperatures did not impact our fall crops. Our gourds, pumpkins, squash and other crops came out fine. The Wile's Lake crops took a harder hit and we lost our first cucumbers. So, our cucumbers will be delayed about two weeks; instead of mid-July it will likely be the beginning of August," said McLean-Wile.

"We turned our irrigation system on a little too late, but we were also basing that on 33 years of farming this land. A frost this late ... we were all in uncharted territory," she concluded.

Environment Canada has issued another frost warning for June 6, with temperatures sitting just above freezing in higher elevations and a low of -1C in low lying areas.

"We won't sleep again tonight," said Hebb about the forecast, "but that's life as a farmer, there's lots of time to sleep in the winter."

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