Fort Mill peach farm sets fire to save crop from cold

03/26/2014 7:14 PM

03/26/2014 7:17 PM

A little ingenuity might have saved the local peach crop.

Ron Edwards, manager at Springs Farm, spent what he hopes is his last night of the season worrying about peach buds Tuesday. Edwards manages about 70 acres of peach trees that could have been ruined for the summer picking season had ice damaged those buds.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Edwards said Wednesday afternoon. “I think they’re all going to come in just fine.”

At least part of the reason is an old idea revisited, one extraordinary enough to warrant a call to the town fire chief: Springs Farm workers lit small fires beside the peach trees to keep them warm through the night.

“We were doing a little experimenting,” Edwards said.

Fort Mill Fire Chief Jeff Hooper admitted the call from Edwards was out of the ordinary.

“This is an unusual situation,” Hooper said. “Our main concern was safety, that they would have someone attending it at all times, and they did that.”

Hooper allowed the workers to light small fires in buckets near the rows of peach trees. His background includes fire departments in rural and agrarian areas. Hooper said it isn’t uncommon for farmers to ask firefighters to wet down crops before a freeze, but the bucket fires were a little different.

“He called me earlier in the day asking if he could do it,” Hooper said. “I’m glad he thought to. I said, ‘let’s find the safest route.’”

Those 70 acres are spread out “all over town,” Edwards said. Each site seems to be in good shape. He’s expecting peaches in close to the first of June “or maybe a little bit later.”

Edwards didn’t have to light a fire under his strawberry crop. Springs Farm has 25 acres of strawberry fields and covering those plants kept them from freezing.

“They’re fine,” Edwards said. “They are going to be coming in a little later this year with all the snow and bad weather we’ve been having. They’ll still be here in time for the Strawberry Festival.”

The South Carolina Strawberry Festival, held annually the first week of May at Walter Y. Elisha Park in Fort Mill, is a major driver of strawberry sales each year. Edwards expects to be ready to supply it.

“We’ll have us a big picking day that week,” he said.

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