Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cold temps shorten growing season

Warm weather helps but effects still linger

Express Staff Writer

Last weekend's warm weather will not be enough to compensate for early June's unseasonably cold temperatures, which cut short the Wood River Valley's growing season by at least three weeks.

Darlene McDonald, garden center supervisor for Webb Landscaping, says that the delay in planting and growing will result in less produce.

"There will be a definite decrease in the amount of harvest that people will get out of things that take a longer time to grow, like tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes," McDonald said. "It just takes them longer to mature, while vegetables like cabbage, lettuce and broccoli, which can survive colder temperatures, will be just fine. In other words, anything that could not go in early will have a lower yield."

Despite the delayed growing season, the farmers' markets in Ketchum and Hailey are still going strong.

"Last week we had the best opening day we have ever had in Hailey," organizer Kaz Thea said. "I think because it has been so cold, everyone is more than ready for things to get started."

Thea acknowledged that most of the markets' producers were at least three weeks behind in planting and harvesting.

"Mostly, people haven't been able to plant on time and things have been so slow in growing that they are not maturing as fast," Thea said.

Despite the poor conditions, only one farmer was a no-show at last week's market debut.

While the cold has disadvantaged some growers, it also has provided some perks; namely more wildflowers and hopefully a milder fire season.

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the soil is not nearly as dry as it was last year.

"Last year, at this time the conditions were like those of mid-August in a normal year," Nelson said. "So it should be a cooler fire season, or at least delayed a little bit."

Allison Kennedy, education director of the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, said it has also been a banner year for wildflowers.

"While we've noticed that things are about two weeks later than normal, we've also enjoyed that our flowering spring trees and wildflowers have lasted a lot longer," Kennedy said.

Thea hopes this season's troubles will encourage more growers to invest in greenhouses or hoophouses, a less extensive, more affordable alternative that has the same warming effect as a greenhouse. She recalled one farmer in Minnesota who used hoophouses and managed to extend his growing season three whole months.

Kennedy thinks the cold spell will make growers more aware.

"The cold June just reminds us that we are gardening in high altitude and in the Rocky Mountains," she said. "So it's a good idea to keep your eye on the weather and watch your plants."

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