Rough winter means slow start to spring harvesting season

05/07/2014 8:00 AM |
Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Asparagus is slowly making its way into spring at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead. It is not ready to be harvested until it reaches a height of at least six to eight inches. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The lasting effects of a stormy winter have put a damper on the spring growing season, and produce that would otherwise be on farm stand shelves by now has yet to even break through the ground.

April’s end usually marks the beginning of the spring harvest across the North Fork, said Philip Schmitt of Schmitt Family Farms in Riverhead.

But this year, the season has become something of a waiting game.

“We’re hoping by the weekend to get started with some of the winter spinach,” Mr. Schmitt said. “With the rain from late Thursday and the nice weekend, things did jump a little. But we do have a long way to go. If Mother Nature cooperates from here on out we’ll be OK.”

Mr. Schmitt said the harsh winter cost him about 20 percent of his winter spinach crop, as well as some of his parsley — though he did say that there were some benefits to the deep freeze.

“When the ground freezes, it expands, and that helps to aerate the soil a little,” he explained. “It can also help with the pressures of disease and insects. With a winter like we just had, it’s certainly beneficial in that regard.”

Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, an organic farm in Southold, said she’s about a month behind in both harvesting and planting her next round of crops.

“Everything we do is by soil temperature,” she said “The soil temperature is about 10 to 11 degrees colder than it normally is.”

While she has planted some varieties of tomatoes and peppers known to ripen early, she’s held off on planting other tomatoes.

“I have to wait for things to heat up,” she said, adding that she may consider planting some varieties in mulch to speed up the growing process.

“Even our asparagus came up later than usual,” she said.

Asparagus is the staple spring crop at Wells Homestead Acres in Riverhead, said grower Lyle Wells.

“We started [harvesting] the 15th of April last year, and by the 20th we were picking tremendous amount of asparagus,” he said. “This year it’s very slow growing.”

He started to harvest May 1, explaining that unlike most other vegetables, asparagus grows multiple spears from the same crown, so fields can be picked continuously.

“Instead of picking every 24 to 36 hours like we would otherwise, we’re picking every 72 hours,” he said.

But the upside of the slow start has been a surge in demand, Mr. Wells said, allowing him to sell at a higher price than normal this season.

He said he’s selling asparagus wholesale for between $2 and $2.50 a pound, where $1.50 to $2 tends to be the industry norm, though he’s not expecting those prices to last long.

“The weather seems to be turning this week, so I’m sure the price and supply will level off,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have a plentiful supply for Mother’s Day so we can fire up the grill and enjoy it.”

cmiller@timesreview.com