As cold weather persists, farmers play the waiting game

Bayview Farm owner Paul Reeve (right) with his semi-retired farmer Uncle George Reeve local horseradish root they have been busy grinding up for sale in the farmstand. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Bayview Farm owner Paul Reeve (right) said tractors are ready, but the soil is not. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In a drastic change to their normal routines, North Fork farmers say they aren’t doing much these days.

By the time St. Patrick Day rolls around, Bayview Farm and Market owner Paul Reeve says he usually has seeds in the ground in anticipation of a May harvest.

But this year’s prolonged winter has put a kink in the system, delaying seeding by more than two weeks. April 1 has come and gone and no planting has been done at the Aquebogue farm. 

Though the tractors are ready, Mr. Reeve said, the soil is not.

“We’ve prepped equipment and now we just wait,” he said. “The worst thing in the world is to go into a field that is too wet and too cold because it will compact the soil. After that, the soil is not right for a long time.”

In some areas of his farm field, Mr. Reeve said, the ground has frozen down to three feet below the surface, making planting impossible until warmer and drier weather returns. Until then, he said he spends much of his day tending to his horseradish, one of the few locally grown crops able to survive the winter without damage.

Mr. Reeve is not alone.

Jeff Rottkamp of Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Calverton said Tuesday he hoped to be back in the field planting this week, but soggy soil stalled his plan. He and Mr. Reeve agreed that the slow start to the season will have a lasting effect on this year’s harvest.

The harsh winter has been particularly unforgiving for springtime crops like peas, spinach and fava beans across the region.

Asparagus, which typically starts to sprout in mid-April, will also likely be delayed in arriving at area farm stands, Mr. Reeve said. A delayed planting could also mean a later strawberry and corn season as well, though he holds out hope that local sweet corn will be plentiful for the Fourth of July.

Mr. Rottkamp and Mr. Reeve say it is still too early to tell how or if the price of the crop would be affected by delayed seeding.

“We just have to wait and see,” Mr. Rottkamp said.

In February, the average daily temperature at the National Weather Service station in Islip was 21.6 degrees, roughly 11 degrees below normal — making it Long Island’s coldest February on record.

March was not much of an improvement.

NWS meteorologist Jay Engle said nearly 20 inches of snow fell during March, more than 15 inches above average. By comparison, only 5.4 inches of snow fell in March 2014, he said. March’s average temperature was 4.2 degrees below normal.

April has arrived with the promise of a warm-up by NWS meteorologists, but farmers remain cautiously optimistic about the forecast.

“They can predict what they want, but Mother Nature is in control,” Mr. Rottkamp said. “When Mother Nature starts to turn around and get better we will all be anxious to get started.”

In an effort to avoid the pitfalls associated with the weather and get a jump on the season, some area farmers have turned to technology.

Last year, Eugene Krupski of MarGene Farms in Mattituck installed two high-tunnel plastic greenhouses at his farm. Naturally ventilated with drop-down sides, the tunnels, each 100 feet long and 30 feet tall, have allowed Mr. Krupski to grow and sell spinach, Swiss chard and kale despite the condition of his unenclosed farm field.

“[The high tunnels] allow me to extend the season,” he said. “In the farming industry you have to do different things to stay in business. There is no other way we’d be able to have [the produce].”

Still, Mr. Krupski said he’ll need the weather to turn to plant fingerling potatoes, onions and other crops in his field in mid-April.

“I am hoping there won’t be too much of a delay,” he said.

[email protected]