For the past couple of weeks, the weather in our part of North Manchester has been pleasantly balmy; almost summer-ish on a couple of occasions. Our fruit trees have been responding accordingly, with blossom buds fattening and stretching, ready to burst into glorious full bloom.
Which is tremendous, and lovely, and hugely welcome of course, until you see this sort of thing lurking in the forecast:
No April Fool’s gag, this: it looks like temperatures are going to crash to -2°C or -3°C on Monday night into Tuesday morning. That’s a potentially blossom-killing frost, if the blossom has opened by then. And no blossom, of course, means no pollination, and that means no fruit later in the year.
It’s definitely bad news for the early plum and cherry flowers that I’ve seen out and about for the past few days. Hopefully the apples and pears on our orchards will be able to hunker down and weather the cold snap. Hopefully the 12°C or thereabouts daytime temperatures between now and then will be low enough to make them pause their development. And hopefully a -2°C frost won’t be enough to harm the blossom buds if they’re yet to fully unfurl. That’s an awful lot of ‘hopefully’. Too much of it for comfort.
In the old days, the orchard workers would go out in the evening and set dozens, or hundreds, of oil lamps amidst the trees to gently burn through the night, raising the air temperature just enough to keep the frost at bay. So says Stephen Hayes in Tales From an English Orchard, pointing out that this is a practice dating from when both labour and fuel were plentiful and cheap. Nowadays, the only option for the small-scale orchardist would be to cover every tree that’s likely to be affected in horticultural fleece. Not really an option when you don’t have enough fleece to go around and its already windy enough to make wrapping – without knocking the buds off the tree in the process – an impracticality. I’ll just have to go fall back on ‘hopefully’ and hope that’s enough.
As former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once said at a particularly nail-biting crunch-point of the season, it’s squeaky-bum time and no mistake.