Where’s spring?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It says something that when temperatures dipped down to freezing Tuesday night, there wasn’t a lot of concern about frost killing part of this year’s strawberry crop at Nourse Farms in Whately.

“We don’t even have flowers yet on the strawberries,” said Nathan Nourse. “Normally, they’d be in full bloom by now.”

And that strawberries are about two weeks behind schedule — which might lead some area strawberry supper organizers to rethink their calendars — is just a bit of the larger picture this spring, which is 15 percent colder than last spring, and 31 percent colder than spring 2012, according to statistics kept by Sandri Energy.

“Stuff outside is poking along all over the Northeast,” said Nourse, adding that he’s confident Mother Nature will come around and provide strawberries in time for the Father’s Day weekend June 21 and 22. “If we have pick-your-own then, it would be great,” even if that is a week or two later than typical.

“The crop will be there,” he says. “The problem is, it will all come at once if it ever heats up.”

That could happen sooner than you might believe, despite Tuesday’s overnight frost in parts of low-lying Franklin County. Saturday’s temperatures are forecast to reach into the mid 70s this weekend and could go higher early next week.

Things got off to a late start for many farmers, like Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague, because of when they were able to plant in soil covered with snow and ice and soaked in rain.

Instead of planting seeds in late March, as Voiland did in some fields in some years, it wasn’t until April 10 that he was able to get peas planted, with some crops growing two to three weeks behind as a result of delayed soil warming.

Some early-variety strawberries, which would typically be ready around June 5, probably won’t be ready until maybe June 15, he guessed, although some plants could ready sooner.

Voiland, who’s hoping to have about 1,500 customers for Red Fire’s Community Supported Agriculture shares, says he’s told subscribers that he may delay the start of the official season from the first to the second week in June.

“Things are a little behind, but they’re going well,” he said.

Wednesday was the first day of picking asparagus for Smiaroski’s Farm Stand in Sunderland, said farmer Charles Smiarowski, who watched Tuesday night temperatures dip to 32 degrees, within a couple of degrees of what will hurt asparagus.

“Everything’s very late,” he said. “Sweet corn, cukes,” with planting of crops like corn and potatoes delayed because of cold, saturated soil.

Home gardeners

Home gardeners and farmers alike are finding that virtually everything is growing more slowly this spring, says UMass Extension Agent Ruth Hazzard.

“It seems it’s almost better to have it keep going kind of cold and warm up more slowly, which is what it’s doing,” said Hazzard. “If it gets really warm and then you get a real cold spell, it can kill things off.”

The good news, she said, is, “There’s a lot of potential to catch up. People have been putting out all the cold-hardy stuff: lettuces, onions. You always feel like it could turn around at any time.”

For Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield, though, cold temperatures have meant that bee hives are about a month behind where they ought to be, said beekeeper Dan Conlon. “We need about three more weeks to get up to the numbers we need to bring the hives to growers. But the growers are also behind, so it works out.”

The bigger problem has been that Warm Colors’ overwinter bee population, which usually experiences about a 15 percent die-off that’s seen as acceptable, experienced a loss of 25 to 30 percent — something Conlon hasn’t seen in a dozen years. That’s because of the prolonged winter, with small hives especially prone to problems because of bees having to huddle together for warmth instead of expanding, and using energy just to stay warm.

With many plants from which the bees collect pollen flowering, he said, “I think we’ll catch up.”

Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield reports some winter freezing of peach buds over the winter, when temperatures stayed below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But because those trees are also about a week behind, said Ben Clark, it’s hard to know yet how much fruit will be lost.

At Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, the late season is causing a backup of plants for planting.

“A lot of people are looking for tomatoes and peppers (plants),” said Deanne Andrews, nursery manager of the Greenfield store. “We don’t have room for that yet,” because sales of herbs and earlier vegetable plants has been slow.

“The gray weather inhibits people from getting out to shop, because it would mean they’d have to get out and start gardening,” said Andrews, who tries to discourage people from planting too early, anyway. “We’re going to try next week, with our fingers crossed,” to begin selling warm-weather plants like basil, tomato, eggplants and peppers.

“In general it’s just a big backup, “including a backup in the greenhouses of plant suppliers who need to free up space in their greenhouses for more later plant varieties.

Meanwhile, Andrews is seeing problems with geraniums, which are prone to the botrytis fungus in prolonged cool temperatures, causing their leaves to turn yellow. The airborne virus “spreads like wildfire,” she said, and can even spread to soil eventually.

But she believes that by Memorial Day weekend, temperatures should warm up to the point that it’s safe to plant most vegetables.

“Next week, it’s supposed to be in the 40s at night, so I think its time to go for it,” she says. “But we’ve been surprised before.”

Back in Whately, Nourse is also optimistically cautious — because of the moon.

A full moon will occur next Wednesday, he noted, and “usually during a full moon, you get extra radiational cooling, where you tend to see colder nights. Old timers will tell you that.”

Given that scenario, he warns people to take care of they’re plantings, and consider covering their berry plants if conditions warrant.