Lowcountry farms prepare for the big chill

Tarps are thrown over strawberry field at Ambrose Family Farms (Source: Live 5)
Tarps are thrown over strawberry field at Ambrose Family Farms (Source: Live 5)

WADMALAW ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Farm across the Lowcountry are preparing for the big chill over the next few day as temperatures are expected to reach near freezing overnight.

"The first day you plant it is the best day, and then it goes downhill from there," said Pete Ambrose, owner of Ambrose Family Farms on Wadmalaw Island.

Ambrose is taking precaution by throwing tarps on his strawberry fields ahead of the near freezing temperatures this week.

"It's like cheesecloth, very light," he said. "There are different grades of it for different temperatures."

Ambrose said he hasn't always put tarps down.

In past years, he's sprayed his strawberries with water, which forms ice on his crops.

"Ice raises the temperature, because it's only going to be 32 degrees," he said. "So if it were 28 degrees, the ice is only going to be 32 and you could save them that way."

It hasn't always been successful though.

"We had three days in a row, and I almost lost the entire crop to disease from all the water we had to put out," he said.

Ambrose and other farmers add this year has been all over the place when it comes to the weather.

At Ambrose Family Farms workers have been picking strawberries and selling them at the market for the last month or so. Usually the berries aren't ripe for picking until the end of March.

"We're just so out of whack I can't really comment on it," Ambrose said. "It's just what it is."

January and February saw near record high temperatures and now with potentially record low temperatures in the next few days, Ambrose isn't not sure how his crops will handle this incoming weather.

"You never know," he said. "You can't read a book and farm. You learn from your experiences."

While he's putting his effort into saving his three acres of strawberries, unfortunately he's risking it when it comes to his blueberry field, which has just started to blossom.

"We have no way to cover it up," he said. "We'll probably lose that if it gets down to 26 or 27."

In the end Ambrose said he's preparing for the worst and praying for the best as he goes through the rest of the week.

Other local farms like Boone Hall Plantation are also putting tarps on their strawberries ahead of picking season.

Workers at Deep Water Vineyard on Wadmalaw Island say there's not much they can do to protect their vines.

"[We just] pray it doesn't get too cold for too long," said Jesse Freiwald, with Deep Water Vineyard. "It's typically a little warmer on this end of the island due to maritime influences, and I'm hoping that holds true for this cold front."

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture also issued a statement ahead of this week's cold weather.

The statement reads in part:

"Many factors will affect the amount of damage, if any, sustained by the crops. Some of those variables include: stage of bloom, wind, moisture, and the length of time the temperature stays below freezing. Farmers will not be able to make an accurate assessment until the cold weather has moved through the area and temperatures rise."

"For now, all we can do is wait," said Hugh Weather, SC Commissioner of Agriculture "These specialty crops are very important to our farm economy and we are all saying a prayer for the farmers ahead of the potential freeze."

South Carolina is the largest peach producing state on the east coast providing a $300 million economic impact.

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