The thick, misty grey Tulle fog has settled in over the Valley and will be coming and going until March. The leaves have all dropped from the trees, leaving limbs exposed and bare – rather eerily poking through the fog blanket. It may appear like the orchards have been left for dead, but in reality, they are getting a much-needed rest during their dormancy. In fact, each variety needs a certain number of chill hours to reach its maximum potential in the coming season. A chill hour is when the weather goes below 45˚F for a full hour. Chill hours are also important to know in the selection of varieties to plant. If a low chill hour variety is planted in a high chill hour environment, the bloom and fruiting will occur when it is too cold and the fruit will freeze. If a high chill hour variety is planted in a low chill hour environment, the fruit will not set.
Winter planting is also on the farmers’ to-do lists during this cold season. Baby trees are prepared, the ground is dug up, and each tree is planted by hand and then stomped into the ground by foot. Mature trees are also groomed for the coming season with hand pruning. The goal of this is to clean out the center of the tree to allow sunlight in when the leaves come back, cut off any suckers – which are non-graft variety limbs and/or non-fruit bearing limbs, and clean up the scaffold limbs so that the entire tree has a stronger production in the season to come.