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Water - A Protection From Frost

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Farmers who grow fruit and vegetables have been seeking earnestly for some protection against frosts in the fall and spring. So far no device or plan affording this protection has been found satisfactory.

The loss by frosts every year makes an immense aggregate running into the millions. Smudges of smoke have been invoked but can only be effective in a perfect calm. Even a gentle breeze makes this protection impossible. Firepots distributed through an orchard are weak attempts to heat up all out-doors.

It cannot be done only to a limited degree and even then is only applicable to orchards.

This plan holds out no encouragement to the cotton planter, the gardener or the small fruit grower.

The whole line of experiments for the frost protector so far has really reached a hopeless end.

I have become convinced that water is a sure safe-guard against a temperature even lower by several degrees than freezing.

There is no possible prevention of danger to tender buds, vines or plants by a temperature that approaches wintry mildness, but a mere frost to a few degrees below freezing can be made harmless by water.

My observations through many years as a fruit grower has proven to me that water is the element that must be applied to prevent danger to fruit and plants in the time of low temperature.

A few years ago unusually warm weather set in here in Michigan after the opening of spring in March. Peach and cherry buds were permanently swollen and blossomed out a month ahead of the usual time. In this connection a remarkable cold change came on in April and every one supposed the peach and cherry crops were lost, but with this cold spell came snow and rain and to the pleasant surprise of all the farmers a full perfect crop of the endangered fruit was realized.

Many believe yet that this crop of fruit was obtained despite the cold because of the modifying influence of Lake Michigan. This is non-sense. The water of Lake Michigan in March and April is icy cold and tends to lower the temperature rather than to raise it. The value of Lake Michigan to the fruit growers in what is known as the "Fruit Belt," stretching several miles wide along the lake shore, from St. Joseph to Grand Traverse, is its prevention of growing weather in the spring until the danger of frost is -past and its warmth in the fall that prolongs a frostless season into October. Beyond all doubts the crop of fruit the year to which I refer was preserved to the growers through a week of weather with the thermometers down to within 28 of zero by continuous rain and snow.

This influence of water was shown me in a rather remarkable way one spring when the buds of my vineyard were so far advanced as to be in danger from frosts. The night was cold and I feared my grape crop was gone. My anxiety prompted me to rise early for a visit to the vineyard. I found it covered with a heavy white frost at early daylight. I turned from it in the firm belief that the crop was ruined. But at that time it was perhaps two hours before the sun could get up high enough to strike the vines and in the meantime the wind set in from the south so warm that it rapidly converted that white frost into a heavy dew before the scorching rays of the sun could catch the vines and the injury from the frost was almost entirely obliterated and I realized a fair crop. It is said that a frosted rosebush left on the lawn in a pot can be saved by removing it into a dark room and sprinkling with cold water. It is a well known fact that dangerous frosts are most liable in a dry time, especially when the moon is full and that frosts rarely occur after a day of rain, although the clear up may be with a dangerously cold wind out from the northwest.

These reliable observations point to water as the most hopeful source for a plan of protection against damage from frost. A water system with air pressure, pipes, hydrants and hose, supplemented with a good spraying outfit will save early planted cotton, vineyards, strawberry beds, gardens and orchards of orange and peach from the injury of frosty nights. In this connection I speak of cotton fields because I am told the boll weevil can be beaten by early planting but in that case the planter has frost to fear. I am aware that danger to orange orchards comes in winter as it does to peach buds when unusually low temperatures are experienced. My faith in water as a shield against cold leads me to think a spray of water that would cover the trees with ice would save the buds from intense wintry cold. This, however, is only a suggestion for an experiment well worth trying. If found effectual it would be cheaper than smudges or firepots.

My only aim in this paper is to suggest the possibilities of water for a protection against frost and I submit facts that sustain the theory. If I am correct, the idea can be so developed as to prove of enormous value to planters, orchardists, gardeners, grape and small fruit growers.

We have reached the age of intense farming in every branch for every section of our wide and varied resources. There must be higher culture for both men and soil. The draw-backs are many, but enterprise, energy and intellectual activity can conquer success as in a skillfully conducted battle. The day has dawned when the successful farmer must quit the beaten path of the past and the stepping from the deep, out of the prejudice proudly live and act in the light of an era that invites a marvelous advance with electricity, the gasoline engine, the telephone, concentrated fertilizers, improved machinery and all the inviting attainments of science relating to nature's courtship. Our national progress and the bright future that stretches far down the brightest vista the world has ever seen. demands of the farmer that he take the advance, not as a "Hayseed" but educated, enlightened, a prince among men, the crowned hero of all producers; a scientist so deeply versed in the moods of nature that he can study and understand her, experiment with her many phases and be able to make her his assistant in every change. Nature is not fickle, her change comes in obedience to laws that are of an unchangeable average. These must all be understood and made to serve the important purposes of her most worshipped admirer—The Modern American Farmer.


Question—What effect, if any, would increasing the flow of Lake Michigan through the Chicago Canal have on our fruit belt?

Answer—Probably the same as any river flowing through Michigan.

Question—Our lake level is higher this year than last season—Why?

Answer—This is probably due to the fact that we have had more rain than for several years in the past.

A. Member—In answer to the question previously asked in regard to the effect of increasing the flow of Lake Michigan water from the Chicago Canal would say that the most marked effect would be increasing our shipping facilities and thus prove a decided benefit to the fruit belts.

A Member—It is your theory that spraying trees with water when the temperature is 3 or 4 degrees below zero—say at midnight—will prevent injury?

Mr. Winters—If water will protect from frost as it does, why not? If the trees were sprinkled in the winter when there was a very low degree of temperature, say 10 to 25 below zero—the water would freeze as soon as it touched the trees, then would not the ice become a protection to the buds from the frost? I do not pretend to say that this is right. It is only a theory with me, but it seems to me that it is the theory that would work out all right in practice.

A Member—What would be the effect of fresh cultivation in an orchard just previous to a frost?

Answer—I know a gentleman in our locality that cultivated his vine-yard going through on Saturday afternoon, that night they had a hard frost and his vineyard was more hurt than those around him where there was no cultivation. As to spraying I think it would be dangerous to spray in the night. If we could spray the trees after the frost was over—it must be done after the frost is through freezing—we could get much better results.

Prof. Taft—Spraying has been tried and has given results. You can do your spraying just as the sun is going down or in the night. The older members here will remember Dr. Kedzie--he used to bring this up at the meeting—the prevention of frost by the use of the spray. He advocated doing this with warm water. The water being warm gives off heat and this keeps off the frost. It certainly has a marked effect. While I will agree that the waters of Lake Michigan do much toward holding back the frost; I think it has the effect of frost prevention be-cause at the same time we have a frost the water of the lake is warmer than the freezing point, and it contains a great deal of latent heat and warms the air and thus lessens danger of frost. But we have an-other thing that we can rely on even more than this in the planting of our orchards, and that is, the matter of elevation. If our orchards are planted where we have a slope we can there get air currents, and air currents have much to do with lessening the danger of frosts. In many states they use smudgers, but our frosts are so infrequent that we cannot go to the expense and trouble of procuring pots and storing oil and caring for our orchards in this way. I have known cases where they have used "these smudgers night after night, and then thinking all danger was past from the frost, there would come a sudden change in the weather, and before they realized it there would be a cold spell that. would destroy the crop. I am in doubt as to the economy of the spray. There is no question but what it is effectual to a certain degree at least, but will the expense and trouble necessary to get it, pay for what you get out of it? I think it would be better to plant our orchards near some large body of water and in proper location where the air currents will be all right, and then you will have no trouble. If one is carrying on market gardening, growing small fruits then I think the water spray could be used to good advantage and profitably.

Mr. Waters—After a heavy rain we never have a frost, even though we have it quite cold, and it is from that principle that I advise spraying vines—not so much the spraying of the vines themselves, but the wetting down of the ground thoroughly. I do not think that just the mere wetting down of the vines will do very much good, but if the ground could be wet down thoroughly, it would do the work, and a farmer can afford to do this. If water is put on plentifully I am very sure that the frost will be prevented. You ask what effect the water has on the ground; the earth is warm and if we saturate the soil with water it creates a warmth that saves from the frost.

A Member—Has anyone had experience with an orchard planted be-side a Iake of say, forty acres, and from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet deep? We have an orchard on the east side of a small lake, and the land is quite flat—Has anyone had any experience as to whether a small body of water will warrant planting an orchard on that land?

A Member—In regard to fresh cultivation—they asked this question of Professor Vandeman, one of the Professors of Agriculture in Ver mont, and they answered favorably to fresh cultivation. My thermometer was showing a freezing point in the crotches of the trees and the ground was crackling under my feet; I was keeping up fires. The ground was just freshly cultivated, and I had nothing injured.

Mr. Monroe—In regard to the influence of Lake Michigan, I would like to make a statement, particularly because it is a matter of a good deal of observation—and if anybody knows of an exception I will be glad to hear of it—and that is this, I do not think we ever lost a tree by cold weather in the winter when the wind was across Lake Michigan. I do recall a small body of water beside which a vineyard was planted, Lake Corey, just west of Chicago, I remember there was a large vineyard on the north side of it, and as I passed it a good many times I noticed that the frost would kill below a certain line right along, while above it, about half way up from the lake level to the higher part, the vine would be all right. Now, I think if it had been planted on the west instead of on the north side of the lake, the water would have had more influence.

Question—There was open water in Lake Michigan the times you speak of, was there not?

Mr. Monroe Perhaps, but in every case I have investigated where some have said that there was frost loss, such as poor cultivation, low level, etc. Of course, we want to bar 1906, and even frost came from the northeast, just a land wind from the Polar regions. But I do not think we ever lost a fruit crop by reason of frost in the spring when the wind was from across Lake Michigan.

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