Cold spring delays crops, forces replanting

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WESTMINSTER — Paul Harlow has seen his share of springs. Nothing surprises him.

The Westminster organic vegetable farmer said this week that spring came early this year and then it went into a long, cold stall. That, coupled with a hard frost — a freeze actually, has forced him to replant much of his sweet corn crop at Harlow Farm.

He said the forecast last week had been for 31 degrees, but he said two nights of 26 degrees damaged crops, including corn and asparagus.

The asparagus will bounce back quickly, he said.

That, and some of his strawberries, which hadn't been protected, he said.

He said he thought that because the blossoms were "tight in the bud" that they would survive the cold temperatures, but they didn't, and he estimated his crop loss on the strawberries alone at between $5,000 and $10,000. Harlow grows four varieties of strawberries, with staggered blooming times, and the earlier blooming variety had been covered.

He said putting up row covers and other protection was difficult those days because the wind was blowing very hard.

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Harlow has 300 acres under cultivation; 200 in vegetables and the balance in cover crops.

Harlow said the coronavirus has had no effect on his farming operation. "We've been able to keep our local workers," he said.

The 17 Jamaican workers who traditionally come to his Westminster farm to help plant, weed and harvest, came as a large group this year — all at once. They are currently in quarantine at the farm, but allowed to work. Usually, Harlow said, they don't come all at once.

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"We have 10 Jamaicans sitting around because the weeds aren't growing," he joked.

"Things are growing very slowly," said Harlow, who said there actually wasn't enough work because of that for all the Jamaican workers.

He said the growing season was off to a "great start" during the first week of April, and then things slowed down.

"It turned cold, and nothing grew for about a month," he said.

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Earlier this week, before temperatures started climbing into the 60s and 70s, Harlow estimated that the growing season was about a week behind.

As for the sweet corn, Harlow said he has been starting his sweet corn in his greenhouses for several years now, a strategy adopted by many organic vegetables farms.

The larger starts of corn are big enough to "get a good jump on the weeds," since the starts are planted when they are five to six inches tall.

He said he grows about 10 or 12 acres of sweet corn, which he said was not a big crop fo him.

"Most growers our size do it," he said, noting large-scale sweet corn growers don't adopt the greenhouse starts.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com

Photo gallery: https://mng-nenivt.smugmug.com/Planting-corn-051420/


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