Upper Valley farmers adapt to erratic weather brought by climate change

  • Kyle Cohen, left, shows Chris Fischetti how to prep bok choy to transport and sell at farmers markets in a greenhouse at Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney, Vt., on Friday, May 27, 2022. Cohen said that leafy greens like lettuce that are in greenhouses on the farm are growing ahead of schedule because of high temperatures, and those in the field are behind schedule in part due to unpredictable weather and a lack of rain. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Jon Cohen uses his tractor to create beds to plant vegetables at Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney, Vt., on Friday, May 27, 2022. Cohen said that hot temperatures and a lack of rain have been making it difficult for vegetables planted from seed in the fields to germinate without the help of irrigation. “If you’re not watering, nothing’s coming up,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Lettuce wilts in the field at Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney, Vt., on Friday, May 27, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Alvin Carty, Murray Bailey, Isiah Carty and Donavan Bailey, guest workers from Jamaica, weed rows of beets grown from seed at Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney, Vt., on Friday, May 27, 2022. Direct seed crops like beets and carrots have gotten off to a slow start this season because of fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 5/27/2022 9:34:23 PM
Modified: 5/31/2022 9:39:21 AM

PLAINFIELD — Upper Valley farmers say that weather conditions for fruit and vegetable growing so far have been “unpredictable” and “extreme.” To these farmers, however, that has become the new normal.

“The last 10 years have been what I’d call ‘the average of extremes,’ ” said Pooh Sprague, owner of Edgewater Farm in Plainfield. “Today I worked all day in a long-sleeve shirt. And yesterday it was 95 degrees.”

The impacts of climate change are making weather patterns more erratic, according to several local growers, which makes it more difficult for farmers to plan their seasons.

“The weather is so very unpredictable of late, we never know quite what to expect or do,” said Rebecca Nelson, owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, N.H. “The extremes are disconcerting, with swings from drought to overly wet the last couple of years, and raising crops has become risky and hard to plan.”

The problem is not an absence of needed weather patterns but their extremity, explained Jon Cohen, owner of Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney. The dry periods run longer, the hot temperatures rise higher and rainfall can frequently be heavy and ongoing to the point of flooding crops.

Cohen, like Sprague, pointed to the most recent temperature swings to illustrate the challenge for farmers. In a recent span of five days, dating back to May 19, the high temperatures in Ascutney swung from 55 degrees to 94 degrees, then fell back to 70 degrees.

These extreme swings, with temperature variances of over 20 degrees from one day to another, are more problematic for the crops still contained in greenhouses, the farmers said. It is still too early in the season to move many crops outside, yet the temperature jumps into the 90s can make the greenhouses too hot or spur plants to grow or mature too soon.

“It has been a very sporadic season so far,” said Bob Gray, owner of 4 Corners Farm in Newbury, Vt. “It’s (swung) from being colder than normal, which delayed our planting of most outdoor crops, to short periods of extremely hot weather that stressed the plants we did have planted.”

Cohen said they put shade cloths over their greenhouses last weekend to reduce the heat.

Dryness is another concern, Sprague said. The Upper Valley went without rain from May 5 to May 15.

“We like to get rain frequently,” Sprague said, noting that the soil can dry out even with cooler weather, which can impact younger plants that are still establishing their root systems.

Sprague said his farm weathered the dry spell using its irrigation system, though the rainfall last week ultimately saved the situation.

This spring has overall been “cooler than normal,” despite the temperatures during the recent weekends, the growers said. While the farms are mostly still on schedule, some farmers delayed some of their plantings longer than usual.

“We are just putting seeds in and hoping for the best, with irrigation ready if needed and lots of prayers and hopes for good production,” Nelson said. “There (was) a frost warning in northern New Hampshire (on Tuesday), which always is of concern with any crops that have started growing.”

Cohen said there is little farmers can do but adapt to the changing climate.

Many vegetable- and fruit-growing farms rely heavily on having a diversity of produce, Cohen said. Deep Meadow Farm, for example, has 65 varieties of vegetables. Some are cool-weather crops, like asparagus, while others thrive in a warm and dry climate, like tomatoes.

Despite the weather challenges, most early fruit and vegetable harvests remain on schedule, farmers said. Asparagus season is still underway, and strawberries appear on track for picking next month.

Deep Meadow will participate in several farmers markets this season, including Market on the Green in Woodstock, which opens its season on Wednesday, from 3 to 6 p.m. on the Village Green.

Deep Meadow also opened its seasonal farm stand last weekend in Ascutney, which had a strong community turnout, Cohen said.

Edgewater plans to open its farm stand on June 15, though its greenhouses are currently open to purchase plants. Edgewater sells greens, greenhouse-grown tomatoes and strawberries in early June and a fuller spectrum of vegetables and raspberries by late June.

Beaver Pond Farm’s store, located on John Stark Highway in Newport, is currently open. The farm will open its pick-your-own raspberry patch in early July and pick-your-own blueberries in late July.

Nelson said their berry crops may have been slightly late due to cooler temperature in the early spring, the blueberries are in full bloom and the raspberries “are about a week from bloom, (with) lots of bud clusters.”

Gray said that 4 Corners Farm’s strawberry crop “looks good at this point,” despite the early cool spring temperatures.

In addition, the farm planted several acres of strawberry fields through black plastic, which expedites the warming of the soil and the flowering of the plants.

“Those berries will be (ready) two weeks earlier than the normal crop, which has the benefit of giving us a longer picking season,” Gray said.

4 Corners’ farm stand is currently open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gray said the farm stand provides a “wide selection” of greenhouse-grown produce, which will continue to add offerings as the season progresses.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at pfadrian25@gmail.com.




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