BENNINGTON -- For a second time in three years, Bennington's only pick-your-own apple orchard lost nearly its entire crop in a late April frost.
Unseasonably warm temperatures through March led to early blossoms on apple trees across the region, but blossoms on trees at Terry's Apple Orchard could not withstand temperatures that then fell below freezing on eight different nights in April.
When temperatures drop as low as 28 degrees after the buds have flowered there is a 10 percent minimal loss of fruit, but when temperatures drop to 24 degrees it typically means a 90 percent loss, according to Rob LaPorte, who manages Terry's Apple
"Say you've already had your first 10 percent event, but then you have your second one, your third one, your fourth one, your fifth one -- that keeps chipping away and that's exactly what happened to us," LaPorte said. "But it was the final weekend of April when we had freezing temperatures (that fell as low as 24 degrees) that really did us in."
While one orchard was almost completely destroyed, others in the region were able to escape significant harm.
In Dorset, for instance, Mad Tom Orchard had minimal loss and has a strong crop that has been open for picking six days a week since the start of September. Employees have also been picking apples at Southern Vermont Orchard on Carpenter Hill Road, a 215-acre, commercial operation.
At Terry's, LaPorte said one variety -- Northern spy -- did survive the frost. Northern spies typically bloom late, which saved the crop on Harwood Hill. Unfortunately, Northern spies make up just "a very small percentage" of the 2,300 apple trees that span the 16-acre orchard. "Certainly not enough to pay our bills. It's really just a minuscule amount of what the orchard is."
While there is no variety, Terry's is expected to open the last weekend in September and the first weekend of October for pick-your-own. If the turnout is good, LaPorte said it may open the following weekend too. "If we have two weekends in a row and there are a lot of people coming then there will be motivation to continue on down the road," LaPorte said.
Two weekends is better than what Terry's was able to do in 2010 when the entire crop was wiped out by a spring frost.
People looking for another variety of pick-your-own in the county will be left to travel to Mad Tom's Orchard in Dorset.
"Considering the challenges this year we're faring quite well," said Tom Smith, who owns the orchard with his wife Sylvia.
Smith saw buds begin to blossom at his orchard by April 20, about four weeks earlier than usual. The frost at the end of April did destroy sporadic parts of his crop but Smith said no trees were completely lost.
Another hardship put on farmers of all kinds across the country this year has been the dry summer. Smith said the lack of water did hinder some of the older McIntosh trees resulting in smaller fruit than usual. All things considered, Mad Tom Orchard still has a lot to offer and Smith said he is seeing "one of the best" crops of honey crisp apples this year.
Prior to Mad Tom's annual Labor Day Weekend opening, the orchard opened for pick-your-own apples on Sundays Aug. 19 and 26 due to the early arrival of some varieties. Business has been good since and Smith said turnout generally picks up as September goes on.
"It's so much earlier than normal so not everybody is awakened to the fact that apples are already ripe," he said.
Lia Diamond, who owns Southern Vermont Orchard with her father Harold Albinder, said the orchard has a "nice crop." Diamond said the frost did affect some of the orchard's trees but declined to give any indication of how much was lost.
"We are very fortunate to have the crop we have this year," Diamond said.
The orchard ships most of its apples to a packing facility in New York but also supplies fresh fruit to local supermarkets, schools and the Apple Barn, which Diamond also owns.
Both the Southern Vermont Orchard and Mad Tom Orchard were also able to escape the worst of the damage that wiped out the entire crop at Terry's Orchard two years. Smith said his orchard benefits because it is at a higher elevation and because the slope it is on causes the coldest air to gravitate to the valley below the orchard.
For those less fortunate with lower elevated orchards there are things that may be done to minimize the impact of frost such as having a helicopter fly over the crops throughout freezing nights to create a wind tunnel effect that circulates air and keeps temperatures warmer. The option was considered at Terry's, but the cost was too great.
"At two grand a night, we would have needed eight or nine nights," LaPorte said. "A small, 16-acre orchard certainly couldn't absorb that."
Two years ago LaPorte said an apple crop in this area being wiped out by frost was a once-in-a-decade phenomenon, although now he is beginning to question whether that rule still holds true.
"I don't think there's any question global warming is definitely an influencing factor to our weather in this immediate area. What it's doing is its exacerbating a situation that was already there," LaPorte said.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi