Greg Kwasnik, Staff Writer
RUMFORD â After a topsy-turvy spring that scorched, froze and deluged the Maine landscape, local farmers are doing their best to salvage the rest of the growing season.
On Friday, farmers from across the River Valley set up shop at the Rumford Farmer’s Market to sell strawberries, peas, and other early summer produce. The bright sunshine and 80-degree temperatures were a welcome relief after nearly a week of heavy rain.
“The problem with the weather is it’s crazy now,” Tim Carter, owner of Middle Intervale Farm in Bethel, said. “You get a whole week of really hot, dry weather and then you get rain for a week.”
Indeed, the spring and early summer of 2012 has been a time of weather extremes. In March, the region experienced record-breaking heat, with several days of temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
April and May brought rainy weather and erratic temperature swings, while June dumped heavy amounts of rain on the state. As of June 29, the National Weather Service in Gray had recorded 11.03 inches of rain for the month, nearly 7 inches above average.
This season’s inconsistent and extreme weather hasn’t done any favors for farmers. Gail Cutting, owner of Grandma’s House Bakery and Gardens, said the recent heavy rains and short spikes of intense heat have enfeebled her usually robust crop of cucumbers and squash.
“It’s really set back a lot of things, washed out a lot of early seedlings. The setback is the worst, the most disappointing,” Cutting said.
Jim Thurston also yearns for a normal growing season. Last August, Hurricane Irene completely washed out his fields at Thurston Family Farm in Peru; early this month, two days of heavy rains nearly repeated that disaster.
“In the beginning of the month when we had that 7 or 8 inches of rain, that came really close to flooding out our field,” Thurston said, referring to the deluge on June 2-4 . “It was the same amount of water but it was spread out over three or four days so it didn’t come up nearly as high. But it did kind of wash out some of my zucchini and summer squash.”
The wet weather has also forced Thurston to use more pesticides than usual to combat a profusion of garden pests, such as the tenacious cucumber beetle.
“The cucumber beetles have been pretty crazy this year,” Thurston said. “They go right after the zucchini and summer squash and cucumbers and cantaloupe â all those kinds of melons and stuff. They just love them.”
Animals are also suffering from the persistently damp conditions. Weeks of regular rainfall have made it exceedingly difficult for farmers to hay their fields. Jennifer Czifrik has had a difficult time finding dry, good-quality hay for her animals at Roaring Lion Farm in Rumford.
“Hay is very unpredictable right now and it’s kind of hard to find,” Czifrik said. “We have alpacas and animals that really need quality hay. It can’t be damp, it can’t be moldy, it can’t be dusty.”
If more rain falls, the price of hay will only increase, Czifrik said.
“If we have a summer that continues with this weather, hay is going to be pretty expensive,” Czifrik said. “In the summer, it’s supposed to be the least expensive.”
The weather outlook through September calls for average levels of temperature and precipitation, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
In an ideal world, Gail Cutting said, the rest of the summer would be blessed with rainy nights and warm, sunny days. After a wild spring, she and her plants are just looking for a break.
“You’ve got this temperament going on here in the fields,” Cutting said. “It’s like, can’t we just have a normal summer?”