Spring display leaves growers breathless
Plum growers nervous about late frostsPENNY WARDLE
Bob and Jenny Crum, of Windsong Orchard in Renwick, are holding their breath while their plum trees are smothered in blossom.
The trees flowered about a week early and Mr Crum said he was nervous about frost blasting the tiny "plumlets". A -1.6 degree C frost last week was just on the edge of causing real damage and cloud cover had since kept night temperatures above zero.
Plums were pretty robust in frost compared with other stonefruit, he said.
The earliest of the 25 varieties grown flowered about three weeks earlier than the latest, which spread risk across the organic orchard.
The Crums are hoping for warm conditions to continue so bees get busy shifting pollen around the orchard leading to a good crop of fruit. Last year they lost a large proportion of their crop to wind, in mid-November.
"We were looking at a kick-arse season last year until we got a horrible wind and lost tonnes and tonnes of plums," Mr Crum said. "It was like walking on golfballs in the orchard."
Apples flowered about a month later than plums. Cherries were the last to flower and first to fruit.
Mild August close to record
This winter has gone down as the warmest in 82 years, with the month of August the second warmest since records began in 1932.
According to Plant and Food Research liaison scientist Rob Agnew, the unusually warm weather has meant that spring has essentially begun a month early in Marlborough.
"The August 2013 mean temperature was 2.3 degrees Celsius above the long-term average temperature for August . . . [and] was slightly warmer than the long-term average for September," he said.
The winter had followed the trend in Marlborough of becoming warmer each year, but summers had not shown the same trend.
The high average mean temperatures have come despite 35 ground frosts. However, these had not been very cold and had resulted in just nine air frosts, Mr Agnew said.
The average ground frost was -2.3C and the coldest -5.3C.
Each week in August became progressively warmer and up to the 28th the average temperature for the month was 11.1C, he said. This would have beaten the record but the final three days of the month were much cooler, dragging the average down.
The temperature may have been up but sunshine hours were down, with the total sunshine hours for August the lowest since 1990. Until August 21 the sunshine hours were on track to be the lowest for the month on record.
"The cloud cover kept the night time temperatures higher than average. Fortunately the sun decided to make an appearance in the last 10 days of the month."
This warm trend is expected to continue, with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa] seasonal climate outlook for September to November predicting above average temperatures for the top of the South Island.
Winter is expected to return in a nasty way, with a mid-week southerly blast predicted to bring snow to sea level in the south of the South Island and to low levels in other parts of the country.
Marlborough will not escape either, with snow expected to fall to about 200 metres in Canterbury north of the Rakaia River into southern Marlborough, with sleet or bitterly cold rain to near sea level tomorrow until early Thursday, MetService said.
Southland, Clutha and Dunedin should expect snow to near sea level tomorrow.
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