Fruit farms in our neck of the woods have their own season. It’s called “frost season”, aptly named because this is the season when the temperatures warm up, the fruit buds begin to bloom and any night, freezing temperatures can eliminate a good portion of a fruit crop. Frost season generally begins at the end of March and goes anywhere to mid to late May. We’ve had frost as late as Memorial Day, which happened to be…our wedding. In another town. Fortunately, we had neighbors who promised to start our wind machines if needed that night since we were celebrating.
We have twelve wind machines spread throughout our 100 acre farm. A wind machine is tall hulk of a metal tower, fifteen foot propeller and a Chevy propane fired industrial engine that lights up the night with noise and wind. On a cold, clear night our earth is trying to heat outer space. As it does so, warm air rises and cold air sinks, creating a temperature inversion. That means it is warmer fifty feet above the ground than it is down at ground level. The job of a wind machine is to mix that warm air down into the cold air around the fruit buds and keep those buds from freezing. Now, when I say that machine mixes air, we mean it mixes air. It can move a strong wind across nearly ten acres and sounds like a helicopter hovering over the house.
On a snowy, cloudy night no inversion develops and the machines sit quiet and ready in case the sky clears. If it does, wind machines are profoundly helpful as they can raise the temperature around the trees from one to three degrees. That can be the difference between having a crop of fruit or not. For the record: A tree with a 10% crop of fruit buds is what we want on the tree, otherwise there will be too many fruits and they will all be small. Only 10% of the original buds will be enough fruit for a full crop. However! As farmers tend to not have much control in their work, they want to make sure that 10% is where they want it on the tree. Not all at the top or all on one side as Mother Nature will dictate. And, certainly not less than 10%.
When Steve and I were first dating, I was mystified with how all this worked (plus I was head over heels and couldn’t miss a MOMENT with him) so I would eagerly trundle out of bed in the middle of the night to help start the machines. Now….things have changed ever so slightly. Now I say, “I hope it goes well tonight” and promptly fall back asleep. I do love awakening to the sound of the whack-whack-whack of the wind machines. It feels like Steve is out there taking care of his babies. All 35,000 of them.
Wind machines are loud. Have I already said this? Loud as in…is this what it sounded like in Vietnam-loud? As is, our son saying, ” I couldn’t sleep because of the wind machines last night” or as in our daughter saying, “I fell asleep once all the machines were on…the noise makes me feel peaceful”. As in, many of the neighbors saying, “So, you ran your wind machines last night”? As in, a silence that seems to throb through the earth when they are turned off. Quickly to be replaced with the thought of, “I hope spending all this money on propane was worth it”.
In a good year, we’ll run the wind machines four or five times. In one bad frost year, we ran them twenty-two nights in April and May. Some years, we run them in the dead of winter because the temperatures are cold enough to kill even the dormant peach buds. This was the case this winter. So far this spring, Steve has run the machines four times. Two weekends ago we had record-setting lows in the 10 degree region. We continue to watch the weather forecast, stick close to home and hope we get more westerly fronts (those mean moisture) than arctic blasts from Canada (those mean brrrrrr). I’ll let you know how it turns out, and hope that we won’t be running wind machines on our anniversary.