September 15, 1999 | By: Haven Miller

Kentucky's devastating drought has produced a side effect that's actually helped some of the state's fruit producers. Dry weather tends to sweeten and intensify the flavor in such crops as peaches, pears, apples, plums, watermelons, cantaloupes, and grapes.

"A lot of our fruit crops are not irrigated, and as result size has suffered and yield has been down this season," said John Strang, horticulture specialist in the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. "But the dry weather also tends to concentrate sugars and flavor components and so you get a sweeter, better tasting product."

Strang said pear quality was outstanding this year, and also grape quality.

"Grapes grown for wine particularly benefitted," Strang said. "Wine grape growers are not so much worried about berry size because they're squeezing them for juice. They're interested more in quality than quantity to make that exceptional vintage."

With watermelons and muskmelons, clear, cloudless days and moderate temperatures combined with dry weather to help maximize sugar production.

"We hear people talk about cantaloupes sometimes not tasting good, and there's a myth that they've ‘crossed with cucumbers' and have a bad taste, but that's not true," Strang said. "Cantaloupes simply will not cross with cucumbers. Bad flavor has more to do with cloudy weather, rainfall, and reduced photosynthesis and sugar production."

According to Strang, the beneficial effects of dry weather on fruit flavor this year may, in some instances, have been counteracted somewhat by extremely hot temperatures.

"Fruit trees are respiring just like you and I are – they take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide," he said. "With high temperatures, the respiration rate in plants increases, and as a result some of those sugars may be burned up in the respiration process."


Writer: Haven Miller (606) 257-3784
Source: John Strang 606-257-5685