Monday, March 26, 2012

Cooked and frozen - the looming disaster for our tree fruit

A little more than 5 years ago, I wrote a blog piece called Global Cooking. Maybe not so much for other readers at the time, but for myself. To document a winter that essentially wasn't happening, with early January temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Using a chart from the Weather Underground website, I wrote, "Today is the 26th consecutive day of above normal temperatures here. Every day during these past 26 has had a high temperature at least 7 degrees above normal." I also noted, among that year's oddities, that I had harvested broccoli in the garden on New Year's day.

5 years before that, in 2002, when 4 consecutive mid-April days in the 80s caused the fruit trees to bloom prematurely. But a frost nearly immediately thereafter completely wiped out that year's cherry crop, and reduced the apple crop by almost 90%.

None of this prepared us for 2012. Here is the weather chart for March, 2012 from the Weather Underground site. The average high temperature for March 22nd is 42 degrees Fahrenheit. We got 84. The average low is 27. Ours was 53.

People throughout the area were in shorts and t-shirts. I walked outside at 10am, multiple days. Every evening was punctuated by a nice game of frisbee catch with Elianna on the front lawn. I posted a facebook entry with pictures of everything in bloom, labeled, "The disaster of 2012." There was little use in trying to convince people that the extreme warmth was not a good thing.

Oh, we rushed to make sure the trees were sprayed, and breathed a sigh of relief when they came on the 21st. We talked about opening the pool on April 1st this year... no joke.

By the end of the week, the crocuses had come out and were gone. The forsythia was in full glory. The magnolia was opening. Daffodils, hyacinths, and even tulips bloomed. Frogs sang loudly, every night. And then the cherry blossoms came out, in full. One full month early. The apples were not more than another couple days away, and the pears not much further.

Cherries, apples, and other tree fruit, once exposed, do not survive frosts well. As I found at one site: Dormant cherry trees withstand cold temperatures, but as the buds begin to swell and open, the tree is more vulnerable. Fully open blossoms are the most susceptible to damage. If temperatures drop below 27 degrees Fahrenheit, the buds will die, producing no fruit for the season.

That's generous. In my experience, there's severe damage even with a light frost; below 30 degrees, they're history. And the average low for West Bloomfield, the last week of March, is 31.

Tomorrow evening, the low temperature here is predicted to be 28 degrees. Assuming that prediction -- or another one for later in the week -- is accurate, our cherry crop will be wiped out. We have no rational or affordable defenses against it.

We're just home owners with trees, really. We didn't plan it; we happened to buy a house and didn't even know what it had. The first year, we had the same repeated experience: I think we can eat these! The cherries and apples, the cider, etc., have become tightly integrated pleasures of our lives, and of the kids' childhood. Losing the fruit for a season, as we did 10 years ago, will hurt... but we'll get over it. We may even get a side benefit: The brown rot that had been progressively impacting the cherry crop in recent years, may be killed off or at least reduced. But that's not much of a trade.

For Michigan fruit farmers and farmers in other nearby states and provinces, I can only imagine the scope of the disaster.

Now, I don't know if the 10 consecutive days of 70+ degree temperatures here, or the 3 consecutive days in the 80s -- all records for March -- are a result of Global Warning.

But I do know the price we'll have to pay for having the temperatures in the 80s when the calendar still said it was winter.

Addendum: This article that Lori received from MSU Extension as a Master Gardener, discusses the record-breaking warmth. It doesn't discuss the impact on fruit trees, but does say, "further cold weather at some point in the next several weeks is virtually a certainty."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Southside comes to Michigan

I have a t-shirt I've never worn. It announces "Peace, Love and Jukes," and the dates: March 2-4, 2001. The event was Jukestock, a weekend festival of all things related to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, held at a Holiday Inn in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.

Lori -- 7 months pregnant with Elianna at the time -- needed a doctor's approval to go with me. We took Aaron, just past his 4th birthday, to some of the events. I remember that, during a concert by Mark Pender's band, it was too loud for Aaron so I took him out of the concert room to the hallway... only to realize about a minute later that Pender was doing a Louis Prima routine and leading the band through the hallways -- right to where we had escaped!

The highlight, of course, was Southside's concert at the hotel that Saturday night for the 300 loyal attendees. A stunning 35-song set, highlighted by "This Time Baby's Gone for Good," and a monumental version of the Springsteen composition, "A Little Girl So Fine."

During a photo/autograph session the afternoon before the Jukestock show, I asked John when he was going to come to Michigan. He said something about a friend in Ann Arbor and how he'd like to make it here, but in the decade that passed since Jukestock, the only Michigan dates were in Traverse City and... Canada.

That finally changed Sunday night, 11 years to the day from the end of Jukestock, when Southside appeared at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. And, for the first time since 2001, and first time ever outside New Jersey, I finally got to see Johnny live again. No need to worry about whether John would draw an audience in Michigan; the theater was packed.

The band is nearly totally different than in 2001. Jeff Kazee is still on keyboards, but the other 6 members are all new (though guitarist Glenn Alexander reminded me after the show that he was at Jukestock himself, as part of Mark Pender's band; I didn't ask him if he remembered chasing me and my 4-year old son through the hallways while playing a song).

Southside looks older and his voice is far raspier than a decade ago. And, like too many of us, he could stand to lose a few pounds. But when he started to get warmed up -- and I'd say that was by about the 2nd verse in the night's 2nd song, "Love On the Wrong Side of Town" -- it didn't matter. And, of course, whenever John got out the harmonica, the playing was superb.

The setlist was a typical mix of songs from the The Epic Years, along with a few cuts from Better Days,a couple from his latest album, Pills & Ammo, and a few covers. His version of The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee" was expected; much less so, takes on the Monkees' "[I'm Not Your] Steppin' Stone" and "Daydream Believer." Yet, despite the seeming similarity of feel, only 5 songs from Sunday night's show were also played at Jukestock.

Southside's banter was typical of him, if perhaps toned down from the good old days. I think he succeeded in getting one of the waitresses some extra tips, at least.

After the show John and the band signed autographs and chatted. I didn't ask when he'd be back; hopefully he'll make it a regular occurrence.