Worst year ever???

camp10July 11, 2012

OK, I've only been growing fruit for 7 years, so I don't have a lot of data to go off of. But in southern Wisconsin:

1) 80 degree temps in March, which got things blooming, early so that ...

2) We could go back to a week of lows in the 20's in April. Then it ...

3) Stopped raining in May. We've had 0.2 inches of moisture since Memorial Day. And then, to top it off ...

4) It got hot! 14 days over 90 in the past 3 weeks, including 3 days over 100. Our max was 105 degrees.

Strawberries: Many blossoms froze. I got about half my normal crop.

Raspberries: Fruiting canes burned up! See pic below. Next years bearing canes look OK.

Apples: Have dropped a lot of leaves, and the fruit has stopped growing. (See pic below) Will the apples rebound?

Blackberries: Fruiting canes aren't dead, but don't look healthy.

I've been watering regularly, but this year's weather just won't give me a break!

Thanks for letting me vent!




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I can commiserate perhaps. It's definitely NOT a typical year in the Great Lakes area, that's for sure. We have had more rain and just a bit cooler than Wisconsin. To date, Detroit has had I think 16 days over 90, our normal for the year is 10, and 3 of those days were over 100. We had about an inch of rain in June, and then another inch over the 4th of July period, so a little better than you in that respect, too.

But yes, it's pretty much a mess.

If you can possibly irrigate the apples and the blackberries I would if I were you. I doubt either will die at this point, but if it goes another 3-4-5-6 weeks like this with no rain, it could get dicey. As far as the actual apples, expect them to be very "woody" this fall if they don't start getting rain or irrigation. I remember in 1988 when we had a similar drought here, the apples in the fall were tough and chewy, not the what you really want in an apple.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 6:34PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

We must be thinking the same thing... I was going to post the same thing earlier today... I was walking around my crusty brown yard looking at all my plums that never made it because of mutant PC, the Japanese Beetles flocking to yard, my blueberry plants that are withering, even with water...my raspberries that look horrible and have no fruit... My apples are all garbage...Peaches aren't getting much size on them... Squirrels are taking them...blah...From cold freezes to drought...constant heat and now very low humidity... No real threat of rain anytime soon.

My container trees all look good, but I water them every other day.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 6:40PM
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alan haigh

Worst for me because I happen to be in this year's cold pocket in my area. Around me it's currently nearly perfect weather for ripening stone fruit. Luscious apricots in particular.

The little the cold left me I can't really protect. Glad I spend most of my time in other people's orchards this year.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 7:29PM
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I keep dragging the hose from tree to tree, trying to keep them going for next year's crop. But it's reached the point where I'm starting to worry how long the water will hold out.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 7:48PM
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Dennis, I have been irrigating everything. Last fall, I rented a trencher and ran water lines to within a hose's length of all my fruits and veggies. So, it's been real easy to keep things watered. I think the heat just was too much.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the late frost killed off 1000% of my pear crop.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 10:00PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

La Crosse NWS mentions record heat next week and a small chance of rain this weekend...its game over if that doesn't occur... 100F+ next week possible??? maybe... This really sucks. I give up this year...

Why can't we just get a string of """"Normal"""" years...cold winters, regular snows...normal summers...

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 10:42PM
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alan haigh

I'm afraid this is the new normal. I hope that 20 years from now we aren't wishing we could get what we are getting now. Areas away from large bodies of water may become unlivable. Think I'll look into Main real estate. Canada is looking good too.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 6:07AM
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I knew I wouldn't be alone. All the field crops here in so Il and IN are toast. Pastures are fried, and farmers are already on hay. If you have a freezer, fill it. Prices on so many things are going to soar. We had a week and a half of days well over 100 w/heat indices well above 110. What potatoes I hadn't dug, cooked in the ground. Younger blueberries are gone as are young gooseberries and rhubarb. What should have been a bumper crop of blackberries has dwindled to 4 or 5 gallons a week. Curculio riddled peaches were small. I do have good looking pears so far. My acre of assorted melons is alive but small and misshapened. They are flowering like crazy, so I hold out hope that a rain might bring me some crop. All wells around here are dry, so there's no getting water w/out hauling it in. We have had pockets though of considerable rain--small areas that got 2 1/2 to 4 inches while a mile away not a drop. My farm is the latter.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 8:09AM
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I am in Chicago, the grass is brown, bare foot walking on the grass likes needles poking on feet. not only the crops loss, we have to regrow the grass in the lawn too if this weather contines. The temperature is going to go up to 90s again in a day or two.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 10:57AM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

Hmm. I'm in Wisconsin as well, and based on all your stories I am almost reluctant to admit that my apples, cherries, raspberries (tons of raspberries!), and blackberries, as well as the strawberries, pumpkins, tomatoes, even the lawn, are doing quite well despite my probable inadequate watering. (Although the peas are all dead now as I'm certain I did not water them enough.) Perhaps I am lucky to live within a mile of Lake Michigan where temperatures haven't gotten any higher than about 88 F even during the recent heat wave, and humidity is probably correspondingly higher here than elsewhere so that there wouldn't be as much loss due to evaporation, and the nights can be stickier with occasional dew (like last night we had dew). God bless my microclimate! I've also kept all my plants watered every day or two, knowing that this drought could otherwise be a real scorcher.

I'm sure some of you folks are just not watering enough. I'd suggest doubling or even tripling your watering efforts and see what it might do for you. I know the heat is terrible, but the only real cure is water water water, and more water. And extra fertilizer might help too since the drought will otherwise lock up nutrients, and extra watering might wash nutrients away as well.

FWIW, I would agree with what others have said, that we'd better get used to this, because this IS the new normal. Forget what you thought was normal. It's gone. This is the new normal, unfortunately.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 11:24AM
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Well, I guess that people in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes can at least adapt if we end up with the climate that was previously typical of places like western Oklahoma or Kansas. We can use various technologies such as drip irrigation to get around some of the problems, the way people now do in places like Arizona or Cali or Israel. I guess it could be worse for us.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 11:32AM
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Dmtaylor, like I mentioned above, I have been watering religiously. The grass around the trees is the only thing that's green. I think it's a combination of all the things that have been mentioned above.

Is this the new norm? I don't know. This is the first time in 17 years that we have hit 100 degrees. Does that mean that we will hit it again next year? 5 of the next 10 years? Not for another 17 years?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Randy31513(Georgia 8b)

Your apples will be fine in the heat. But if the humidity is high as well fruit rot may be your biggest problem. A preventive spray program is something to consider.

A hail storm hurt me the worst so far after the frozen blooms on my summer apples.

I started growing bananas so I am covered no matter which way the weather goes.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 1:52PM
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The problem with watering is wondering how long before the well runs dry. The last drought, the much more localized one of 2005, saw a number of shallow wells failing. iirc we got to D3 then.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Bad year in Southern Ontario as well. Although vegetables are doing pretty good with lots of watering, here's a list of good and bad this year for fruits.

Doing or did well:

Apples (unlike people just south of me)

Failed fruits:

Sweet cherries
Sour cherries
European prune plums
Japanese plums
Arctic Kiwi
Blackberries (not sure yet)

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 2:49PM
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myk1(5 IL)

My established apples are doing fine. The new apple put out some growth and stopped. A new graft on 2 year established roots is doing good.

Plums were small but I write that off as being their first bearing year.

Raspberries are doing OK with watering. Grapes are surviving with watering. I came up with a new way to water my strawberry container this year that's working out, the garden is even doing OK.
But I'm having to rotate the hose around to everything. A few hours on the garden, a few hours on the raspberries, a few hours on the new tree, a day on the strawberries, a couple days on the grapes and then repeat.

I wouldn't buy into this being the new norm. 1988 was much worse here.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 6:43PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

The drought has been very bad in the lower Midwest as well. It's been a long hot dry period. Our blackberries completely burned up.

Peach size is very small compared to normal. Fruit flavor is good but most peaches on the tree are pretty small. Harken was so small I didn't even sell the fruit. Even if it tastes good, nobody wants to buy peaches barely bigger than golf balls.

Some peaches have tolerated the drought better, but I think that is more a function of where they are planted.

I may lose my new peach planting. Those trees don't have the root structure to tolerate such dry weather. Bad luck. Normally you'd never even think about losing a new peach tree here to lack of water.

On a positive note, not had to do near as much spraying.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 9:32AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


So you don't have any type of irrigation in place?

I went 23 days without rain (we picked up a drought busting .08 inches this morning)... My peaches have been watered maybe 2x during that period...they still look good, but growth really slowed down and the peaches haven't sized up much. The squirrel(S)have taken out quite a few.

The heat is bad enough, but when you don't get any rain it just sucks. I've had 20 90F+ days...2 of which were both 103F...

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 10:46AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

This isn't going to be the new norm. It's a multi year drought event similar to the 30s and 50s. I've been telling my relatives that grow corn and soybean in northern Illinois that this could be a drought year. Last year was a severe drought in the southwest. The next year the drought often moves to the Midwest. Not a new pattern.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 11:12AM
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I don't know, I still think I should hedge my bets and start some date palms, pomegranates, and olives in pots to have ready to plant out in-ground in a few years. Maybe a couple of spineless prickly pears? ;-)

I would like to be able to pick SOMETHING when I'm old. One apple, one quince, and 3 peaches just ain't gonna cut it.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 12:51PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"So you don't have any type of irrigation in place?"


Most commercial growers do drip irrigate. In my backyard I've run a dry orchard for years and had no problems. I prefer a dry orchard for flavor because, as you know irrigated fruit tends to dilute the sugar.

The problem is that this year turned around and bit me.
For mature trees it's not that big of an issue. I may not be able to sell some fruit off of some trees because it's too small, but I don't think there is any danger in losing mature trees.

However, this year is not friendly to new trees. I couldn't get enough mulch on my new planting early enough. That, combined with the unusually hot dry windy year, and my new trees are in trouble.

I've got over 200 new peach trees plus apple and plum, so unfortunately it could be a sizable loss for me. Not a total surprise. I've learned that it's not unusual for the Universe to line up against you. Lots of bad things happen in conjunction to make a disaster. Such is life.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 1:38PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


Will you change that after this year? That really sucks about the new plantings. I know I've lost a few things this year from not enough water and its no fun, to lose a bunch of young trees would really be tough. I'm on a well here and you'd think we have unlimited water looking at the sprinklers going 24/7 around town! Lets just hope this is a blip and a not a trend.

The drought I'm ok with. I do think we were do. Its been a long time since we've had a dry spell around this area. If anything we've had way too much water (along with too much snow). I should have known something was up when we had half our avg snowfall this winter. The temps on the other hand are not normal. Its been record breaking warm since March...July is running warmer then the warmest summer (1936) and the heat looks to be here for at least another 10 days.

I'm growing blood oranges and avocados if winter disappears.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Olpea, that just sucks. Any way you could rig up some quick, temporary drip on your new trees, like some T-tape, just to save them?

Frank, I know this isn't really the right forum for it, but I am having so much fun with the potted tropical and subtropical fruit. I've got quite a few citrus now, a jujube, three Asian persimmons, an olive, a couple of Musa, a potted fig, a couple of pineapples, two avocados, a mango, a pomegranate,a bay tree, a cinnamon tree, and I just bought a Red Lady papaya in bud because I couldn't resist the thought of it possibly fruiting. Some bear a little bit, most are just ornamental, but I enjoy them.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 2:57PM
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alan haigh

Olpea, that is horrible news. I'm so sorry.

You can move a lot of water in heavy trash bags placed in nylon laundry bags or trash cans sealed with electric tape that is put on in a way for easy release and bag re-use. Even 10 gallons a tree might make the difference.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 5:08PM
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I have so much trouble keeping my couple of potted citrus alive in this dessicating heat, the idea of more is forbidding.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 7:34PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Thanks guys,

I do have rural water out there (expensive to use for irrigation) but the real reason I haven't been out there dragging a hose around night and day to irrigate trees is that I've been down in my back.

My kids have been picking and boxing my peaches for me and even doing my spraying. As I said a lot of things have lined up for bad luck.

I haven't lost any trees yet, but I'm preparing myself. I did plant about 200 blackberries this spring and lost about 75% of them because it was so dry. The problem was I had difficulty getting enough wood chips to mulch everything. I needed about 100 loads to mulch everything and to date, I've only gotten about 40 or 50, so the mulch went on later than it should have and I couldn't mulch as large of areas as I'd liked.

If I'd had the mulch on the trees and blackberries earlier, or normal rains, either one would have prevented these problems.


I really believe in the concept of a dry orchard. I think the quality of the fruit is significantly better than irrigated fruit. I've noticed during heavy rains fruit flavor isn't as good on my trees. I guess I've bought into Fruitnut's observation that drier trees produce a better quality dessert fruit (although I've not noticed this year's extremely dry weather has produced better quality fruit vs. a normal year that is generally somewhat dry in the summer months anyway). The main difference I see this year is that the fruit is noticeably smaller. This is one time I'd really like to get a brix reading on some of the fruit. My daughter has a device to measure specific gravity in her wine making kit, but I don't know how to convert that to brix.

If this is the new "normal" for Midwest weather patterns, I think a person could still make it work without irrigation, as long as the trees were mulched properly. Some varieties would need to be thinned heavier to compensate for smaller fruit. The biggest problem I've had with small fruit this year are with varieties that produce small fruit anyway. Everything is smaller than normal, so the normal small varieties have really small fruits this year.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 10:58AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


I really don't have that much experience with peaches. I've only got fruit on one peach variety this year. I think peaches are a different beast than nectarine. They probably don't lose as much water through the skin. That shouldn't completely mask the water effects but might mute it. Nectarine are always sweeter on the tip than around the stem. Are peaches that way? Water loss through the skin might concentrate the sugars near the tip of the fruit. I think this may be involved on nectarines.

Also fruit that is overly water stressed can be very high in brix but not taste sweet. I've seen this for certain on sweet cherries, 35+ brix and not even sweet. Not sure this would occur with peaches.

You don't want so much stress that photosynthesis shuts down completely. I think this happened on a few of my second leaf trees this year. They still weren't up to competing with older trees for limited water, not rooted deeply enough.

A $40-50 refractometer would educate over time.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 12:32PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I can't say for sure that peaches are sweeter at the tip because I've not paid that much attention. They generally do soften first at the tip, so they probably are sweeter there. Like all stone fruits, I have observed the outside of the fruit is sweeter than fruit close to the pit.

After I wrote the post above, I looked at my daughter's instrument to measure specific gravity, and it does have a chart to convert the numbers to brix so I think I can use it.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 1:10PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Nectarine are strikingly sweeter at the tip. Even when all of the fruit has turned soft the tip is still sweeter. When over water stressed that is the part of the fruit that cracks or toughtens up the most. My theory is that the tip is sweeter because there is more water loss there. The speckling, sugar crystals under the skin, that shows up on sweet water-deficit fruit, is more prominent on the tip.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 2:36PM
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alan haigh

Olpea, now I really feel sorry for you- I know what a bad back feels like.

I don't think all fruit responds the same to water stress. I've gotten Methely plums that were quite large and as sweet as I could possibly want from trees that are over watered. Much better than the variety produces at any of my unirrigated locations.

I've noticed over the years that European plums don't lose any sweetness during exceptionally wet seasons either. Maybe plums are the only exception to the rule- I don't know.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 2:53PM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))


Regarding your question of converting specific gravity to brix, this is a very simple calculation actually, and requires no charts. On the SG reading of 1.0xx, take those last two digits (and divide by 4). Simple as that. So for SG=1.060, brix is 60 divided by 4 which equals 15.

What can I say... I've been homebrewing beer, cider, mead, and wine for 13 years, and I've picked up a thing or two.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 9:43AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Thanks DM,

That calculation is easy enough. I've no experience with home brewing and this is the first year my daughter has tried it. She bought a used kit with a 5 gal carboy and all the things needed to go with it.

We have a lot of extra peaches that I don't sell. The interior fruit can be of variable quality and I don't sell it, except sometimes as seconds. My daughter wanted to use up some of that fruit.

She made a small 1 gal. batch (in a 1 gal. carboy) and it's not done yet. I don't know anything about it, but after the first racking it smelled (and tasted) skunky. My daughter says she read that's normal and the smell will go away as the process continues. She just started another 5 gal. batch the other day.

Don't know what we'll do with all this wine if it doesn't turn out drinkable. Use as herbicide maybe?

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 10:13AM
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Well, if it's not good as wine, you might try turning it into vinegar and see how that is. The cider and perry vinegar I made last year turned out pretty awesome in the end, even though it was a trial and error learning experience.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 12:14PM
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myk1(5 IL)

"Don't know what we'll do with all this wine if it doesn't turn out drinkable."

Age fixes a lot of things.
I'm not sure what you mean by skunky but if you mean SO2, age fixes that. Especially since she probably added S02 at racking.

It doesn't work as a herbicide that I know of but it will help get a compost pile cooking.

I'm assuming you'd be using a hydrometer to check brix, that takes a tube full of juice. A refractometer is easier as it only takes a few drops.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 12:42PM
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I really have to wonder if the time has not come to plant Zone 7 things in SE MI. The obvious candidates are Japanese persimmon, figs, and pecans, though also pawpaws should do much better here now.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 5:18PM
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Here in Madison, WI, we have had a successful blueberry crop, despite the drought. I have been watering, by hand, twice a week, for over a month now. My back is protesting, but the pain is manageable. Our blueberries blossomed early, but they were able to survive the spring frost events that took out the Door County cherry crop. The lawn is brown, & it is easy to see where I have watered, versus where I have not.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 5:40PM
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