FRANKFORD, Del. — The acres of peaches at Bennett Orchards barely survived a cold snap that sent the mercury below freezing last month.
Temperatures dipped to 28 degrees as dawn broke on April 17, cold enough to damage the tender peach and nectarine buds that will become this year’s crop. If the cold kills the buds, the trees will be undamaged, but this year’s peaches will never develop. After a very warm winter that caused spring flowers and buds to open early, the cold snap moved in and the still morning temperatures fell even lower than expected.
The Bennett family was forced to bring in a helicopter to fly over the orchards, causing the air to circulate and helping keep the temperature from falling any further. Still air and cloud cover are a perfect recipe for cold temperatures, especially near dawn, often the coldest part of a day. After a very close call, Henry Bennett said the orchards at the farm escaped damage and this year’s crop appears to have not been impacted.
“It’s something always in the back of your mind,” he said. “It’s a very nervous time for peach growers.”
He said that the peaches may be able to survive 28 degrees, but that temperature can quickly fall to about 26 degrees and destroy those tender young buds. The family also grows blueberries on its sixth-generation Century Farm, and the freeze didn’t affect that crop either. They aren’t as vulnerable as peaches, but the blueberries could still have been hurt by the cold, Bennett said.
Eighteen varieties of peaches and six varieties of blueberries are grown on the approximately 60-acre farm. They show up at eight different farmers markets and attract families eager to pick their own fruit in the orchard each summer.
The last time the orchard, known for its large, juicy fruit, suffered frost damage was in 2015, when the temperatures dipped to 22 degrees.
“We lost about half of the crop, but we thought that we had lost everything,” Bennett said. At that temperature, a helicopter simply isn’t enough to save the peach buds.
Without the helicopter, there could have been 10% or far more of the crop lost, he said.
Bennett said that the family has had to call in a helicopter about six times during his lifetime.