Mother Nature is taking a toll on local orchards. Subfreezing cold over the last two days has damaged apples, peaches and other fruit crops that, after last week's record-high temperatures, were blossoming early on the North Shore.
"If it hits the lower 20s, they say there's a 30 percent reduction in the yield," said Bobby Connors, who owns Connors Farm on Route 35 in Danvers, where he sells what he raises at a market.
According to the National Weather Service, a temperature of 25 degrees was measured at Beverly Airport between Monday night and yesterday morning.
Miranda Russell of Russell Orchards in Ipswich said the weather station they maintain recorded between 24 and 25 degrees at 5 a.m., when it's coldest.
Connors, who has 8 acres of apple trees, said his 3 acres of peach trees were hit the hardest.
"I think they're 100 percent lost," he said. "We're worried about our blueberry crop, as well."
The temperatures that reached into the 80s Thursday are as much to blame as the freeze four days later.
"That warm weather got the trees into thinking spring was here three weeks ahead of schedule," Connors said. "And all of a sudden — bang, last night. All you need is one night. I knew this was going to happen."
Pat Kriksceonaitis, farm manager at Brooksby Farm in Peabody, tends between 60 and 70 acres of various kinds of fruit trees, which produce the bulk of what he sells.
"We're crying in our beer right now," he said. "The apples should be OK. There's some damage, but not substantial."
The apple trees are three weeks ahead of schedule, just like the other fruit trees, but their cycle typically lags behind that of the other species, so they weren't as close to blooming, Kriksceonaitis said.
"But the peaches and nectarines — it's a guessing game," he said. "Whether it's 30 or 70 percent (damage), we can't tell at the present time."
The prognosis was more certain, and much grimmer, for a few species of fruit trees.
"My apricot trees were in full bloom last Thursday. I doubt I'll have any," Kriksceonaitis said. "Some peach varieties were in full bloom — they're gone."
The impact of frost on blossoms is immediately apparent, Kriksceonaitis said, but the serious damage won't be visible until later.
"It's cellular damage," he said. "Some varieties that were in the pink, they might still bloom, but not have fruit. That's why it will take a few weeks to be sure."
Last week's record heat followed a winter that was much warmer than usual, so the trees were primed to blossom early, Kriksceonaitis said.
"They were ready to break dormancy before the heat came," he said, "so the heat just let them burst out."
Connors Farm is in a valley, where the cold air can collect, intensifying its impact, Connors said.
"We usually lose our peach crop one in every five years," he said, although usually the damage comes from extreme cold in the middle of the winter.
Russell Orchards enjoys some elevation but also benefits from being close to the ocean, where the air is just a few degrees warmer than farther inland, Russell said.
Apples are the mainstay at Russell Orchards, and major damage would be devastating for their business, but Russell has her fingers crossed.
"We really are holding out hope there won't be anything more to remember than a few nights of worry," she said.
Russell is less positive when she considers the fate of more tender fruit plants.
"We're looking at something less than 50 percent kill to our less important crops," she said.
"We are going to lose some peaches; that's for sure. We're definitely going to lose apricots, because they were in bloom. And sour cherries — we do use them a heck of a lot in the bakery. It does have far-reaching effects when this happens."