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Orchard Owners Set Fires to Save Apple Crop

April 11, 2012, 4:57 PM by Brady Mallory

Orchard Owners Set Fires to Save Apple Crop

It can be a dangerous combination: an early spring followed by a hard freeze.

Our sudden cool down has people across South Dakota wondering whether their trees and plants will bounce back.

Some people will do anything and everything to protect their plants

"We took large bales of hay, rolls of hay, everything we had," Charles Robertson with Country Apple Orchard said.  "(Our neighbors) were saying, 'Do you know you have a fire here?'  Yeah!  We started the fire."

To protect their business from the spring frost, workers set fires that burned from late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning.  Several people called KELO-TV to report the multiple fires that surrounded the Country Apple Orchard with smoke.  

"The smoke acts like a smudge pot and what it does is help create a fog-like atmosphere that will blanket the orchard to keep the blossoms from freezing," Robertson said.

The fire is just step one, and it is necessary to get to step two.

"All orchards have to have bees for pollination," Robertson said.

Keeping the flowers and buds warm helps keep them a vibrant and healthy pink instead of wilting brown color.  If these flowers die, it has a negative impact on bee pollination.

"If the petals get frozen, they fall.  If you don't have the petals, bees aren't attracted to them," Robertson said.

That could mean no shiny red apples in the fall.

While the fires might sound like a risky move, especially with recent dry temperatures, Robertson took plenty of precautions.  Staff called neighbors and the fire department to let them know what was going on. This method sounds extreme, but where there's smoke, apparently, there are apples.

"If we had not taken these measures, we'd have lost everything.  We probably saved about 50 percent of the crop," Robertson said.

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