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In Alsace, “candles” to protect orchards from frost – France

Between the peach trees, orange flames dance in the night. In their orchard in Westhoffen (Bas-Rhin), Daniel and Nathalie Dettling lit hundreds of candles to counter the potentially catastrophic effects of the frost which is making a sudden comeback this week.

The image is beautiful, with a je ne sais quoi of magnetic. But for this couple of fruit producers, it means something else: after several days of good weather and temperatures sometimes well above seasonal norms, the cold is here and threatening their flowering trees.

The mercury is expected to drop below zero on Tuesday and in the coming days, with widespread frosts and negative temperatures from the North-West to the North-East, Météo France announced.

Against “black frosts”, “we can do nothing”

Temperature differences which are “getting worse and worse” and constitute a real danger for a “nature boosted” by a mild weather, then suddenly cold picked by the frost, explains Daniel, 47, his gaze fixed on the six long ones. rows of peach trees, illuminated by the orange glow of the “candles”.

In anticipation of the negative temperatures forecast for the night from Monday to Tuesday, the couple and several other neighboring producers had thus arranged between their trees these small braziers filled with paraffin, the smell of which hovers all around the orchards.

At 4 am, the grass between the rows is indeed frost-white, but the heat of the “candles” has already melted it at the foot of the trees.

This method, which is not subject to authorization, is frequently used by wine growers or arborists when temperatures drop below zero.

“It allows the temperature to rise by 2 or 3 °” for several hours, “it works for hoar frosts” like the one last night. But for “black frosts”, even colder, “there is nothing we can do”, explains the producer.

“Fragile and precious”

The Dettling, who own around fifty plots of fruit trees (apples, plums, grapes, apricots, pears, peaches, rhubarbs, cherries, etc.) spread over 15 hectares, have favored three, “those in bloom, the most fragile” and the most “precious”: peaches, cherries and plums, explains Nathalie, 44 years old.

“But we did not have time to make the pears, we will do them later”, Daniel slips.

It was a private meteorological station which sent them by SMS on the night of Monday to Tuesday the first alert: -2.09 ° at 1.45 am. New alert at 2.25 am, this time with -3.09 °. “There, we panicked,” says Nathalie.

The couple, who thought they could save at least one night of “candles”, must then resolve the obvious: equipped with gas lighters, it will take them an hour and a half to two to ignite them all.

And they expect to have to start over the next few nights: “We are gone for three nights.” And the more we advance in the season, the greater the danger (…) It can go back to the Hagia Sophia, on May 25, we are not covered! Daniel worries.

“Rat race”

This is the second year in a row that he and his wife have used this method, which has its price: 7,000 euros disbursed in 2020 for 600 candles, 300 of which were already used last year in a previous one. freezing episode.

This time, just under 200 were lit. “I recommended a hundred of them, I have to go get them (Wednesday) morning at the agricultural counter. It’s going to be a rat race, everyone will want it… ”, predicts the fruit producer.

In the orchard, the night progresses, all the candles are lit and a few yawns betray the lack of sleep. However, there is no question of going back to bed: their farmer’s shop in Westhoffen is due to open. “There, we don’t go to bed anymore, we open at 7 o’clock. We don’t have a life… ”breathes Daniel. At 8:30 am, the forty-something believes “the danger is over”, the candles can be extinguished. Not for long: “the next night, and the night after, we know we are gone.”

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