Talk to Maine growers about their experiences during the very wet and cold 2023 growing season, and the same words keep coming up: “difficult,” “challenging,” and “stressful.”
“There’s always something every year, one crop that doesn’t do well. But this year it felt like a lot. “It’s definitely been a stressful year,” said Jessie Chmielewski of Jessewin Farm in West Newfield, adding that this is the worst season she’s endured in the 10 years she’s been around. She spent it in agriculture.
“The season was generally good, very wet, and definitely a new set of challenges that we haven’t really seen in the last 10 years in terms of lack of sunlight,” said Ariel Provencal, assistant farm manager at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. . “We have never seen our early corn yellow before due to a lack of photosynthesis.”
“It’s raining more than 20 days a month that’s holding a lot of us back,” said Tucker Jordan of Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth. “The weeds love it. The only saving grace is that I don’t have to pay the Portland Water District to water the fields.
Unlike the past few years, drought has certainly not been an issue this season for Maine farmers. But late May frosts, a lack of warm days in the first half of summer and heavy rains — we had the sixth wettest June since 1871, according to the National Weather Service — made growing conditions problematic on many area farms. .
However, the season was not a complete bust. Some crops have responded well to the unusual summer climate, and some crops such as corn, which started late due to uncooperative weather, are now doing well.
We spoke with farmers and agricultural experts about which crops are best and worst for them. Their responses often varied widely, because the frost damage they sustained depended in part on the latitude and elevation of their farms. Likewise, heavy, frequent rainfall harms farms with poor drainage or low-lying clay fields more than farms with better-draining sandy soil.
However, we can come to some general conclusions about specific crops. Here we provide a summary of the winners and losers of the 2023 harvest to this point in the season.
blueberry: Although the state’s signature fruit crop got off to a slow start — hampered in part by a late frost — blueberries have actually performed well this year. The rain proved beneficial, helping to thicken the berries even more than in recent years. Keith Harmon, sales and market manager at Fairwinds Farm in Bowdoinham, said Fairwinds’ high-bush berries were particularly good because they were not susceptible to ground frost.
Cabbage: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage all appear to be doing well, although early crops were damaged by rain on some farms. Jan Goranson, of Goranson Farm in Dresden, said her cabbage, kale and Swiss chard plants flourished as the season progressed. Brassicas grown in clay soil were more susceptible to disease this year, while crucifers in sandy soil did well, noted Maryam Talib, an organic production specialist with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
Autumn flowers: Stunning bouquets featuring sunflowers, zinnias and dahlias adorn many of the farm’s displays at the moment. “Our zinnias are better than they’ve ever been,” Chmielowski said, while Carolyn Snell of Snell Family Farm said the dahlias on her family farm are thriving. “I think they’re thirsty,” Snell said. “As long as they drain well, they want plenty of water.”
green beans: Although they suffered from rot at times this year, the bean crop at Pineland Farms, like many other area farms, was good. Snell said bean production on her farm was much better this year than last year, when conditions were very dry.
honey: A May frost meant fewer fruit blossoms for bees early in the season, while long rains caused area beekeepers to harvest honey later than usual this summer. However, they point out that the yield was at usual levels. “Overall, this year is better than the last three years, where we had extended droughts. I didn’t have a second crop in the three years before that,” said Jeff McLean of Red Brook Honey in Scarborough.
Leafy vegetables: Almost all the farmers we spoke to reported strong, high-quality leafy vegetable crops. Romaine at Tiny Acres had a particularly good crop early in the season, Andrews said. Chmielewski explained that the leafy greens that were started in a greenhouse on Jesewyn’s farm, and later transplanted, did very well, but the greens they planted directly in the fields, such as the spinach crop, were washed away by the rain.
onion: Taleb said that the farmers she spoke with reported that onions are in good condition this year. “They like to have water,” she said. However, some farms are experiencing crop failure. David Andrews, of Tiny Acres Farm in Montville, said wet weather allowed weeds to grow around his onions for most of the summer, while Goranson said her onions didn’t grow well this year. “They like to be watered from the bottom instead of the top,” she said.
Pepper/eggplant: Like tomatoes, their counterparts nightshade, sweet pepper and eggplant got off to a late start this year but produced a high-quality, if somewhat stunted, crop. Most of the growers at the Portland Farmers Market on a recent Wednesday had ample offerings of bright, boldly colored bell peppers and eggplant. “It makes us wonder that maybe some crops could use more water than we thought,” Göransson said.
potato: Another big crop from Maine, it did well this season according to the growers we interviewed. Talib said she has heard “mixed opinions” from farmers, but noted that one benefit of consistent rain is that fewer pests mean healthier potatoes.
Fortunately, the dreaded potato bugs were weeks late in arriving in her potatoes this year, Chmielewski said. Jordan said Alewives Brook Farm’s potatoes have fared well in large part because they are grown on higher ground. Conversely, Göransson said she lost part of her potato crop this year due to them rotting in the ground.
radish: Heavy rainfall did not disturb this crop at the beginning of the season. “They loved all the rain,” said Robbie Nelson of Merrifield Farm in Cornish. The cool temperatures in the early part of summer helped the radishes get their flesh crisp and sweet and kept them from becoming too hot, Andrews said.
Sweet corn: While a lack of sunlight has delayed the corn crop and caused strange phenomena such as yellow husks early in the season, corn appears to be rebounding, several farmers report. “Over the past three weeks, the food has been really tasty and the ears have grown in size nicely,” Göransson said. While the rains made harvest difficult and delayed the crop by a week or two at Pineland Farms, “we still have at least another month or so of corn coming in, and it’s looking good,” Provencal said.
apples: This year, apple crops saw a 60 to 90 percent loss in many orchards around Maine, with May frosts being the main culprit, Talib said. Slight differences in latitude or elevation between orchards made a big difference in how hard trees were damaged by a late freeze, said Gregg Sweetser, of Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland. “Those who were not affected by the frost did well, and a one-degree difference in temperature can make a big difference,” he said, noting that the frost wiped out about a third of his crop, including many heirloom varieties, although his own With it, Gala and Spartan apples are of very high quality. “Apple trees love water, and the quality of our apples is good,” he said.
“For a little while, we thought we wouldn’t have any apples, but we did have some,” Snell said. “They’re not quite as pretty as usual, and there’s not a lot, but there’s a good amount.”
Carrots/celery: Wet conditions have caused major problems for celery and carrots on many local farms. Alewives Brook lost acres of carrots this year because 50 percent of its crop never reached maturity, Jordan said. Likewise, Tiny Acres Farms had to go to market with skinny, underdeveloped celery because the crop was choked by weeds that couldn’t be suppressed during near-constant rains earlier this summer. Tiny Acres normally sells a bunch of celery for $4, but now they’re bundling three bunches together for the same price.
Peaches/plum: While most crops were good on Uncle Hollis’ farm, the peaches and plums were completely gone. The uncle is in good company: Maine’s peach and plum crop was devastated by a day-and-a-half of high winds and below-zero temperatures in February, wiping out those fruits across New England. Although it is a relatively small crop in Maine, most growers said they were not able to harvest any stone fruit at all this year.
Strawberry: Late frosts and a muddy, wet early summer have made planting and harvesting strawberries difficult in Maine this year. Chmielewski’s farm lost almost all of the strawberries normally harvested in June, while Alives Brook Farm lost nearly 90 percent of its crop, according to Jordan. The nearly 20,000 hand-planted strawberry trees at Fairwinds produced almost nothing, although the fruitless strawberries did relatively well, Harmon said.
Zucchini/Summer Squash: The abundant and seemingly invincible New England zucchini finally succeeded. Pumpkins have been a problem for many farms, as wet weather makes them more susceptible to mold and mildew. At Alewives Brook, these crops are started as seedlings in a greenhouse rather than transplanting plants directly into the field, but wet conditions did not allow for seedlings to be planted in a timely manner. However, some farms are seeing hope: Chmielewski said that although she lost 90 percent of her crop earlier, she planted some zucchini and summer squash late this season that she believes might provide a good crop toward the end of September.
It’s too early to say
Pumpkins and winter squash: Talib said she has seen a disease affecting many winter squash crops across the state. Chmielewski said the blight hit her squash crop, causing her to lose 90 percent of the crop, while Jordan said her Alewife Brook crop also “stopped.” However, others said they were optimistic about the fall fruits. “Our pumpkins are going to be great,” Provencal said of Pineland’s crop. “It’s a little late because of the rain, but the plants look great.” Winter squashes have already arrived early at some farms like Merrifield and Tiny Acres. “It’s weird to see tomatoes and pumpkins on the same display, but we have them this year because the tomatoes came later and the pumpkins came earlier,” Jordan said.
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