Lifestyle

Delay of summer weather dampens the spirits of Kitsap famers

Glenn Huff, co-owner of Start Now Gardens in Bremerton, and intern Andrew McKibbon, examine squash transplants at the Bloomington Avenue urban garden. The garden’s squash crop, among several other fruits and vegetables, has grown more slowly this year due to unusually cold weather. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Glenn Huff, co-owner of Start Now Gardens in Bremerton, and intern Andrew McKibbon, examine squash transplants at the Bloomington Avenue urban garden. The garden’s squash crop, among several other fruits and vegetables, has grown more slowly this year due to unusually cold weather.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Urban farmer Jean Schanen of Bremerton fears this will be “the summer that never was.”

Under rainy skies Tuesday, she lamented the damage this year’s cold and rain have leveled on her crops at Start Now Gardens on Bloomington Avenue.

Most of her cucumbers died and must be replanted. Her okra was a bust. Her berries are smaller with less flavor and her tomatoes are not as robust as they should be. Mainly, her crops are slow to mature. Since she and her husband Glenn Huff moved to Bremerton in 2003 from Eau Claire, Wis., it’s the worst summer they’ve had.

“Things just happen and you have to respond and react and do the best you can,” Schanen said.

Schanen’s struggle is shared by small farmers throughout Kitsap County who are battling unusually cold temperatures that are slowing the growth of crops. It’s forcing them to change their approach to foster better fruit and vegetable growth and causing them to lose money on produce they should be selling by now.

This month has seen about two inches of rain so far, higher than the average of .75 inches for this time of year, said Art Gaebel of the National Weather Service. The average temperature has been 54 degrees, compared to the normal of 61. The weather could dry out and warm up later this month, Gaebel said, but no changes in the current pattern of scattered showers are forecasted in the next week.

“A lot of plants are out of sync because of the weather,” said Doug Millard, owner of Harlow Gardens in Bremerton. He replaced 15 dead tomato plants this week due to the cold. He is also planting the rest of his garden, including cucumbers, squash and beans, that would normally have been planted around mid-May.

“It takes a toll on the farmer and we don’t have any control over it,” he said.

Marilyn Holt, co-farmer at Abundantly Green Certified Organic Produce, located between Keyport and Brownsville, said that despite her losses — among them her carrots and onions — it hasn’t affected how much produce she can sell. The main setback is that she may have to wait longer to deliver to the farmers market, restaurant clients and Community Supported Agriculture customers who “subscribe” to the produce.

“One of the big issues for us is we need to be able to have things to take to the market,” said Holt, a board member of the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance. “We need to be able to have things to go to stores.”

The weather hasn’t changed what Holt can grow as much as how she grows it. She’s using plastic mulch to cover the ground and help insulate soil and making more use of “hoop houses,” which help protect crops from the elements and keep them warmer.

“We’re just going to approach it more like it’s winter all the time and there are a few hot weeks,” she said.

Holt estimates she’s lost a few thousand dollars since March in failed crops and costs to protect the plants.

Schanen, who also manages the FreshLocal grocery store on Fourth Street, said this year was particularly unusual because it started cold, grew warm for awhile and then cooled down again, throwing off the growth cycle of her crops. For example, her kale and collard greens are already “going to seed.” Though they should be growing strong into next year, they are starting to bloom, signaling the end of their life cycle.

“The plant got confused,” she said.

She’ll have to replant them and customers will go without the greens for a month to six weeks this summer.

Schanen has also shifted her approach. She’s growing more crops in boxes to keep them better insulated and said she can raise more winter crops. The only positive of the cold weather is that her lettuce - which loves cooler temperatures - is thriving.

Kitsap County is faring better than other areas in the state, Holt said. Farms in Snohomish and the Skagit Valley, for example, are still under water.

So Holt counts her blessings, including her “happy” potatoes that are still doing well.

And her customers are adapting to the changes in crop availability with sympathy, she said.

“It’s important for the consumer to realize that we’re not going away,” Holt said. “It’s just that we’ll change how we’re handling the situation.”

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