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Recent Frost Wipes Out Half of Grandfather Vineyard’s Crop; Growers are ‘Still Not Out of the Woods Yet’

A swollen bud at Grandfather Mountain Vineyard and Winery two weeks ago before popping. Photo by Dylan Tatum

By Jesse Wood 

April 13, 2012. Recent cold temperatures devastated at least one grower in the area – Grandfather Vineyard and Winery. Last night, a frost wiped out nearly 50 percent of its grape crop. The vineyard survived a mediocre frost a few days ago but not Thursday night’s cold-weather assault.

“Pretty much, the harvest is gone, but that’s farming,” said Dylan Tatum of Grandfather Vineyard and Winery. “Secondary buds will still pop out, but they won’t be fruitful,”

The Foscoe-based vineyard has many different varieties that have different bud-breakout periods. Tatum said that French-American hybrids, such as Foch, Frontenac and Cabernet-Sauvignon, “made it through Ok” because they are late breakers that are usually hard to ripen.

He added that this isn’t the first time the vineyard, which began planting in 2003, has incurred frost damage, nor is it the worst – that was 2007. But, he said it has been the warmest it has ever been this early in the season. To compensate the lost crops, Grandfather Vineyard and Winery will be purchasing grapes, which it usually does each year anyway, Tatum said.

Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, said that aside from little garden crops, he hasn’t received any frost damage reports, but expects fruit crop prices to rise because, as he said, this has been, nationwide, the warmest month on record. He said plants lower to the ground are at greater risk of a frost than bud-producing plants high off the ground.

“Luckily the wind kept the frost down, kept the humidity from settling on the plant,”Hamilton said, adding that cold weather isn’t necessarily the biggest concern; it’s the moisture in the cold that forms ice on the leaf of a bud and causes the “burn.”

Hamilton abides by the Mother’s Day Rule, which means folks should avoid planting before Sunday, May 13, to avoid a potential frost. “We are still not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Bill Moretz, who operates Moretz’s Mountain Orchard & Farms, which has many, many rows of apple trees, thinks he survived the frost, though he said it’s too early to tell at this stage.

“It usually takes about two weeks after to see what we’ve lost and what we haven’t,” Moretz said. “Just like everything else you take a risk. You either make or you don’t make it this year. Always another year I guess.”

And fortunately for Moretz, the inner workings of the moon may have affected the impact the frost had on some of his crops.

“Supposedly it’s better when you have a frost in the old of the moon than after a new moon, where it’s going away rather than coming up. The new moon supposedly hurts stuff a lot worse,” Moretz said. “Over the years, I’ve found that to be fairly accurate. I’ve seen 28 degrees kill stuff, other times 28 degrees doesn’t bother it much. It just depends on so many factors.”