Last weekend gave us a taste of summer, but just a taste. This week’s wet and cloudy cool down was a setback for our plants. Strawberry plants need sunlight and warmth to produce the sugars which provide their flavor. Weather plays an important factor in making and breaking a bumper crop. Last year at this time we were a bit past peak season for berries, this year things are just starting. It seems we are about three weeks behind schedule taking into account what we are finding from other farms, particularly the Amish community up in Lancaster.
I bumped into our beekeeper tending the hives who told me even the bees are three weeks behind schedule. Certain hives didn’t make it through the spring at all. He explained that hives need to maintain a certain temperature. The cooler and cloudier it is outside the more they need to huddle together to maintain temperature in the hive in order to populate. This results in the less workers to go out and collect nectar for the hive. This correlation between the bees and the plants demonstrates the delicate balance in nature impacted by weather. I think most of us take this for granted.
Even our farming counterparts down in the Carolinas and Georgia are reporting an impact on tree fruit such as peaches and nectarines as well as melons. Supplies are tight. Several years ago we made the decision to extend the summer fruit season by working with South Carolina peach and Georgia melon growers so we wouldn’t have to wait until July. Their quality is exceptional and give us a jump start to the season.
This year it’s not just the weather which is delaying and slowing down production but the cost of diesel as well. Farmers are having a difficult time justifying expenses. Fertilizers have tripled. Diesel has doubled so far and many farmers are concerned that it may triple as the summer progresses. Farms depend on diesel for their tractors as well as for transport of goods. This could be the year to convert diesel engines to run on used vegetable oil collected from restaurants whose exhaust smells of french fries. This was something our friends at Michelle’s Granola pioneered nearly a decade ago.
Fuel costs combined with increased labor costs and shortages along with the weather and farming expenses are contributing to a good amount of uncertainty. To minimize freight farmers down south appear to be putting their energy towards finding ways to focus on local markets to bypass the need for shipping. This is a good year to commit to local farms but as for summer peaches and melons we may have to wait.
On our farm we are focused on picking strawberries, baby greens, lettuce, kale, bok choy and chard. We are cleaning and sterilizing tomato stakes which we will begin putting to good use shortly. There is a den of foxes that have taken over a groundhog colony on the hill. The three cubs watch us with curiosity. I was unaware of the rivalry between foxes and groundhogs and figured they would probably leave each other alone. This year seems there is some territorial rivalry between the species. Groundhogs can wreak havoc on farms as they work their way down rows sampling vegetables one bite at a time. If they just picked one and ate the whole thing it wouldn’t be a big deal. But they have to take one bite of everything like annoying little food critics (no offense). So I’m rooting for the foxes, if I was a chicken farm I’d probably feel different. Have a great week everyone.