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With the first frost yet to arrive in mid-October, Upper Valley farms are reaping the results

  • At Crossroad Farm in Post MIlls, Vt., Owen Deffner, left, and Davey Ozahowski pick red peppers on Friday morning, Oct., 15, 2021. Plants like peppers are still producing due to mild weather and a lack of a killing frost. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Salanova lettuce grows in a greenhouse at Crossroad Farm after it was planted two weeks ago in Post Mills, Vt., on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. The lettuce is used in the farm's greens mix. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Andal Sundaramurthy, harvests basil at Crossroad Farm in Post Mills, Vt., in Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Warm temperatures have extended the growing season this year. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2021 9:40:03 PM
Modified: 10/15/2021 9:40:13 PM

WINDSOR — Morning glories in full bloom. Daily bounties of raspberries. Monarch butterflies lingering in the garden. Weeds shooting up from warm soil. And all in mid-October, long after a frost would typically punctuate the end of summer.

“We’ve never picked sweet corn this late. We still have sweet corn, and probably will for several days more,” said Alex MacLennan, who has been farming in Windsor since 1985.

Thirty years ago, he would have expected a hard frost to strike his pumpkins before Columbus Day. But to date, there hasn’t even been a light frost; temperatures are hovering in the 60s and 70s.

“In terms of business, it has been great. But it makes you think a bit about our climate,” he said.

Vern Grubinger, who specializes in vegetables and berries at University of Vermont Extension, said the late frost fits the predicted patterns of climate change.

“The consensus is that there will be longer growing seasons; that has already been happening for a long time in the Northeast. I think that’s generally viewed as a plus,” he said. “It’s counterbalanced, of course, by more extreme weather events.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the first fall frost in 2020 came nearly eight days later in Vermont and 12 days later in New Hampshire than it did in 1895. But within those trends, each year brings its own idiosyncrasies.

“This delayed frost is really extending the time available to harvest,” Grubinger said. The days are shortening, which means less photosynthesis. Plants struggle to grow much this time of year, even in exceptionally warm weather, but without a frost the last of the harvest is not damaged on the vine, he said.

In Post Mills, the coldest temperature that Philip Mason, a co-owner of Crossroad Farm, has recorded is 39 degrees — well above what can cause a “good frost,” he said. Last year, he remembers a three-day cold spell with temperatures below 30 degrees in the middle of September.

“It has allowed us to continue to harvest frost-sensitive crops much later into the fall. And it follows a trend that we’ve seen in both spring and fall — the extension of the growing season,” he said.

Even a light frost would have damaged the sweet peppers and beans that Crossroad has been gathering in recent days.

The Upper Valley is a patchwork of “micro-climates” with valleys and mountains that lead to so much variation in local temperatures that farms just miles apart may see first-frost dates weeks apart.

Crossroad is a “cold spot,” Mason said, so he and the other Crossroad co-owners are equipped to prolong the season. But they are not heating the plastic tunnels over their vegetables or pulling the crop covers out of the barn.

For some Upper Valley farmers, a longer harvest has helped compensate for tricky growing conditions earlier in the year.

“Crazy cycles of wet and dry” made for a rocky growing season at Edgewater Farm, which has land in Plainfield and Cornish, Ray Sprague said. The early summer brought drought, and then July brought incessant rain and little light.

“We were really behind weather-wise,” Sprague said. Heat-loving crops like peppers and eggplants were at a standstill, and Edgewater didn’t sell any colored peppers until Labor Day.

“It’s nice to make up some ground later in the summer,” he said. “We’re picking crops now we call ‘Hail Marys’ — they’re the long shots. We’re taking in the first pick on the last plantings of greens because we went for it.”

Such a late frost changes the rhythm of the fall. This year, Edgewater Farm will be planting the garlic weeks later than usual so it doesn’t “spike out” too soon. Meanwhile, the raspberries charged with ample water in July will keep producing until the frost comes. It is the best fall raspberry crop Sprague has seen in 10 years.

But the longer crops are in the fields, the more vulnerable they are to the diseases that Edgewater Farm has been battling since July. And the farm weeds have made for a few “jungles” on the property, Sprague said.

Although they will be selling produce at an outdoor farmers market in Waitsfield, Vt., on Saturday, Jean and Wendy Palthey at Tunbridge Hill Farm have lost any potential benefit from the warm fall because of weeds and pests that thrive in the low light and the wet weather. Some produce may be surviving longer as the frost is delayed, but lettuce infected with bottom-rot and squash defaced by mildew cannot be sold.

Meanwhile, the late frost has “kept summer on the mind of customers” at the Crossroad Farm Stand in Norwich, Mason said. They are keeping up their summer habits: frequenting local stores and shopping for seasonal produce.

Mason can enjoy the fall harvest more than he usually does. Crossroad depends on student labor that disappears when school resumes, leaving the farm short-staffed as it tries to harvest as much as it can before the frost arrives. But with no frost in the seven-day forecast, there is no stressful rush to bring in the winter squash and pumpkins.

“Psychologically, it has been wonderful to enjoy fall harvest,” Mason said.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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