While last winter was an especially cold one, this year seems to be trying to even out the average temperatures by being remarkably warm (so far). A chilly November seemed to be an omen of a harsh season to come, but the month of December broke lots of records to go on as one of the warmest New York has ever seen. Pictures of green grass, swollen tree buds and even a few flowers emerged on social media, exemplifying just how unseasonable the warmth had become.
While this was welcomed by many who enjoy warm-weather activities, it's not really what we like to see as farmers. Admittedly, it's much nicer working outside in 50-degree weather than it is at 20-degrees, but abnormal weather is rarely good from a horticultural perspective. Consistent winter cold is essential to the trees' phenological growth; meaning if temperatures fluctuate abnormally, the dormant state of the trees is disturbed and can negatively affect the growth the following year. (Imagine being woken up multiple times in the middle of the night and then trying to work the next day) Even worse, if the relatively warm temperatures suddenly give way to a hard freeze, significant damage and bud death can occur overnight and there's practically nothing we can do about it.
But it doesn't end there. Every winter we have to prune every single tree on the farm. This is called "dormant pruning" and it is essential to growing a consistent, quality crop. The problem with a warm winter is that the trees may not go entirely dormant. Pruning non-dormant trees can have an adverse effect on their development and can damage the tree. Ideally we would wait until temperatures returned to their normal levels, but we have a hard enough time pruning every tree over the course of the winter, so waiting would mean not being able to finish before the spring, so unfortunately we're forced to take the risk and begin pruning before total dormancy.
If there's good news to be had, it's that we're farmers so we're used to rolling with the punches. We are forever at the whim of Mother Nature, and sometimes all we can do is to do our best to prepare and endure.
Now go outside and enjoy climate change! Happy New Year!