Virginia's multimillion-dollar apple crop apparently was spared, but this week's cold snap finished off the state's peach harvest and wilted flowering blossoms throughout the state.
Growers and agricultural extension agents said half the apple blossoms in the orchard-rich area near Winchester may have been killed by temperatures that dropped into the teens and lower Tuesday night. But because there were so many blossoms to begin with, orchard owners would have had to thin them with chemicals, and nature spared them the job.
"The good Lord gives us plenty of extra buds," Gary C. DeOmes, Frederick County agricultural expert, said yesterday. "We don't have a disaster. We still have plenty of buds to set a crop."
In Virginia, apples meant more than $50 million in revenues to growers last year, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Orchards in Virginia produced roughly 12.5 million bushels of Red Delicious, Winesap, Stayman and other varieties last year, making it the nation's sixth top apple-growing state.
Peaches are another matter. The state's relatively small peach crop -- worth $4.5 million to growers last year -- already had been devastated by a cold spell in January. Ross Byers, a research horticulturalist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Fruit Research Laboratory in Winchester, estimated only 10 percent of the peach crop had survived the January cold.
This week's chill finished them off. "I can't find any live peaches in Madison County," said the county agricultural agent, Andy G. Hankins. He estimates the loss of the crop from the county's 9,000 trees, mainly from January's frigid temperatures, at $216,000.
Agnes A. Jenkins said in a telephone interview that the chill that gripped Madison County Tuesday night left a respectable apple crop at her family's orchards near Etlan, as well as some semisweet cherries. The Jenkinses usually harvest 20,000 bushels of apples and a thousand gallons of semisweet cherries.
As for the family peach trees, "I think they're pretty well finished," she said. "And those big [sweet] cherries, they're done for."
Gladys B. Brumback, whose husband grows apples and peaches in Frederick County near Winchester -- an area that produces two-thirds of Virginia's apples -- said temperatures near her family's acreage dropped to as low as 8 degrees Tuesday night.
The cold spoiled the giant "king blossoms" on many trees, but spared the other buds that cluster near them, she said.
That means this year's apples may be smaller, but "we've got a chance to have a very good crop," she said.
As for peaches, "I dare say there won't be a bushel of peaches on 50 acres -- which is to say 'none,' " Brumback said.
Byers said temperatures dropped to between 12 degrees and 24 degrees in the Winchester area Tuesday night, and growers are lucky to have escaped more devastation.
Areas to the south and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains were harder hit, he said.
"Statewide, there are some growers who were hurt significantly," Byers said.
In Frederick County, DeOmes said some growers lost a quarter of their blossoms, some lost half, and some "most everything."
Growers and agriculture agents said the cold was hardest on early blooming varieties, such as Red Delicious, and barely touched late comers such as York, Rome and Winesap.
The same cold wave that ripped the blossoms off the District's cherry trees also wilted flowering blooms around the state.
Marshall V. Trammell Jr. of the state Department of Agriculture said the damage is not permanent, but the chill did deflower azealas, dogwoods and other trees and shrubs already in bloom.