Freezing temps jeopardize peach blossoms, festival

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by Stella Inger and Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on February 12, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 12 at 1:20 PM

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. -- The recent freezing temperatures at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek have the owners worried about their peach orchards. The blossoms are very sensitive to the cold weather and could die if it continues.

In an effort to save the crop, owner Mark Schnepf says he's pumping hot water into the orchards to keep them freezing over.

It will be about two weeks before we know if the measures taken to keep the blossoms alive actually worked.

If all goes well, Schnepf Farms should have 100,000 pounds of organic pesticide-free peaches, just in time for its annual Peach Festival in May.

The cold snap that froze the Valley last month was not really a concern because the trees had not bloomed. Now that they are flowering, the peach blossoms are extremely fragile.

"It was last night that was critical," Schnepf said, pointing out that the temperature dropped to about 30 degrees. "When it gets that cold, we have to do whatever we can to save these blossoms because they're very, very delicate."

When a killing freeze hit in February 2011, "whatever we can" involved renting a helicopter to circulate warm air. While they lost some of the crop, they were able to save most of the fruit.

Peaches are the farm's largest crop, and with the exception of one year several years when they lost the entire fruitage, they've always been successful.

"In the 40 years of growing peaches, it's only happened once," Schnepf said. "It was terrible."

While they won't know for a couple of weeks how their peaches fared, the Schnepfs are keeping a close eye the blooms and inviting everyone to do the same. The farm's Peach Blossom Celebration is under way Thursday-Sunday through March 2.

Schnepf Farms is located at 24810 S. Rittenhouse Road.

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