I’ve been hearing it over and over again from local growers: We’ve never picked this early before.
In a normal year, there would be nothing unusual about waiting until the first of July to start picking raspberries and blueberries, but at many farms the crop is already gone or at least several weeks into its harvest.
At Graf Growers, the first corn of the season was picked on Saturday — the earliest harvest ever, according to owner Lisa Graf. While Graf’s for years has been planting an early crop under cover to be able to pick in early July, this even broke those records.
The warm year we’ve been having may have been a blessing for our home heating bills, but it has accelerated the local growing season to the point that you may have already missed out on some of your favorites.
Chris Saal of Walnut Drive Gardens in Suffield Township said his raspberry crop is almost done. “We’re usually just starting now,” he said.
Peg Vodraska, owner of Rittman Orchards in Chippewa Township, said everything has been earlier than normal this year, especially the strawberry crop, which had its first picking on May 18.
“Father’s Day is usually a really big weekend for us and we were done by then this year,” she said.
Some customers were surprised and disappointed when they arrived in late June only to find the berries already gone. Normally, there would still be a few strawberries left when blueberry season begins, traditionally this week.
Daniel Greenfield, of Greenfield Organic Berry Farm in Peninsula, said blueberry picking has been going on for about two weeks already. While the season usually goes through August, he expects it will end a few weeks sooner this year. Much of what happens will depend on whether rain breaks the drought.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Particularly with the blueberries, we’ve already had a little bit of a peak with the early variety,” he said.
Greenfield lost his strawberry crop when it blossomed early, encouraged by the warm March, and it was snapped by the April freeze. “We lost the blossom. No blossom, no fruit,” he said.
That same March warm-up and April cold is causing problems with fruit crops from here to the East Coast.
Michigan apple growers announced last week that their state’s crop is expected to be a 90 percent loss. The warm spell in March caused fruit to blossom early, but the April cold snap knocked out the blossoms.
Bill Dodd, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Association, said Ohio experienced a similar phenomenon, but not as severe.
He estimates that 35 to 40 percent of Ohio’s apple crop will be lost. “The bloom period was, in most cases, a month earlier than normal, which is crazy,” Dodd said. “It was the situation in most of the East, from Michigan to Maine, for the fruit growing area.”
How the crop losses will affect prices is yet to be determined. Washington state is having one of its biggest apple crops ever, which will offset some of the losses, Dodd said. But most estimates show that the entire U.S. apple crop will be the smallest in 10 years, he noted.
Current drought conditions in Ohio could also have an impact on orchards, but the potential for rain could reverse some losses. “It’s hard to say at this point,” Dodd said, “It could go both ways.”
On the bright side, Dodd said peach growers are reporting a good crop, but it also will be much earlier than normal.
“We’re getting close to peach season now, definitely by mid-July or even earlier in southern growing areas,” he said. That’s two to three weeks early for Ohio.
With any crop, it’s best to check with local growers about availability. Most will be earlier than normal and customers who don’t stay on top of it may find that their favorites have come and gone already.
At Walnut Drive Gardens, Saal said he has been encouraging customers to become a friend on the farm’s Facebook page to receive up-to-the-minute reports on when the crops are in.
“We’ve been advertising more this year and trying to get the word out,” he said.