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Early freeze wreaks havoc at local orchards

Rachel Nystrom stands by an unharvested Haralson apple tree whose fruit suffered from the early frost at Nystrom Farms Inc. south of Worthington.1 / 2
Apple trees show the results of the early frost such as discolored leaves, changed taste, texture and tougher skin, on the affected fruit at Nystrom Farms Inc south of Worthington.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- October's unseasonably cold temperatures have caused problems for local apple orchard owners, many of whom lost a significant portion of their crops to freezing temperatures.

Ocheda Orchard lost approximately one third of its crops, estimated owner Chuck Nystrom.

"There would not have been a big effect if we'd had a normal spring and summer and they had been on a normal maturity schedule," he said. But the harvest was delayed by two to three weeks, and many apples were still on the trees when the frost hit.

He said some varieties with higher sugar content withstand the cold better, but the difference was quite minor in this case.

"Nothing survived the 23 degrees," he said, though the orchard had already harvested the remainder of its apples, and he said Honeycrisps are among the varieties now for sale.

Nystrom Farms Inc. owner Jean Nystrom said she's not even sure how badly damaged her orchard is.

"I haven't even been out to look at them," she said. "It just froze everything out there. All we have is what's left in the shed."

Nystrom said she had never dealt with frost this early in the season, but she said the pre-frost harvest is still for sale.

"We have a nice variety in the shed; Haralsons, Regents, Firesides and Cortlands," she said.

So far this month, there have been at least five days that temperatures fell below freezing, according to the National Weather Service.

The Farmer's Almanac Web site indicates that the first freeze in Willmar, on average, falls on Oct. 4, but that information is based on a light freeze of 32 degrees. The site states temperatures of 25 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit can have a "widely destructive effect on most vegetation," and Worthington has seen several days even colder than that this month.