Puyallup Valley farmers count mixed blessings from the hot weather

The raspberries are early, the radishes flopped, the green beans might be in trouble, and some of the chickens have gone on strike, laying fewer eggs as they swelter.

August has come two months too soon. It’s just too darn hot, and in the Puyallup Valley, the unusually oppressive heat and the lack of rain have had an effect on fortunes of farmers.

It’s too early to calculate any dollar loss due to the weather, farmers have said, and it could be that bumper crops later in the summer might mitigate any early deficits.

The Associated Press recently reported that the average daily temperature in June hereabouts was 78.9 degrees, breaking a 1992 record by more than three degrees. Also in June, only 0.23 inches of rain fell, making it the fourth driest June on record.

“We had June strawberries in May,” said Mark Green, who co-owns Wild Hare Organic Farm with his wife, Katie.

Their farm, located along River Road, was formerly known as Terrie’s Berries and serves customers at farmers markets and retail outlets as well as those who are members of a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program.

The June berries came in May, and now they’re done, Mark said.

The Greens have been irrigating at twice the volume of a typical year, and they have adjusted their workday to cope with the heat, capitalizing on the cool of daybreak and fielding their employees two hours early, at 5:30 a.m.

They have also adjusted their planting schedules.

“We plant in succession,” said Katie. “What happened, three plantings came at once. We got a month’s worth of spinach all at once, which is great for people who love spinach.”

“The broccoli was quick to flower at a smaller stage of growth,” said Mark.

“We decided not to grow sweet corn,” said Katie. “It’s too water-intensive.”

Also, given an all-at-once abundance, field workers had one less week to harvest peas.

“With radishes, it got too hot too early,” said Mark. “We lost some spinach.”

“We lost some radishes and turnips,” said Katie.

But, she said, the high temperatures “have been great for killing weeds.”

And of those chickens, well, production is down. The 300 laying hens at Wild Hare Organic Farm that should be laying have been producing some five dozen fewer eggs per day than Mark anticipated.

“That’s a 15 percent drop,” he said.

However, said Katie, hope prevails.

Next week, she said, customers can expect summer squash, raspberries and blueberries, and, earlier than usual, field tomatoes.

“It’s not all negative,” she said. “We’ve been very lucky. We’ll have to roll with the punches.”

Down the road and around the corner at Picha Farms, co-owners Dan and Russ Picha watch as customers select raspberries and blackberries. Not strawberries.

“We started harvesting on May 26,” Dan said. “Typically, it’s on June 10. Last year we started on May 29, and we thought that was early.

“This was the warmest and driest May and June in history,” he said. “Because of the weather, it brought our berry season much earlier.”

“This is the 15th month in a row with higher than average temperatures,” said Russ.

The raspberries, now for sale, typically come at the first of August, said Dan. The strawberries this year provided “one of the best crops we’ve had,” and the harvest went for 34 days at Picha Farms, 10 days beyond the average.

Looking ahead to next year, the family is considering expansion of their irrigation system.

This year, when it comes to pumpkins, the Pichas are hoping for a few wet days.

“We need a rain,” said Russ. “We’ve got a few weeks left. It we don’t get a rain, it’s going to have a negative effect.”

The negative effect is already evident on green beans at Duris Farm, one of the valley’s larger operations at 250 acres.

“They’re not going to make it,” said owner Tom Duris.

The cucumbers will do just fine, he said, with proper irrigation, and the zucchini will prosper with a good soaking rain.

“We can make it through this,” Duris said. “We could have a wet September. Who knows? It’s too early to tell. There’s nothing good with this. It’s too hot and too dry.”

Such too is the effect at the Puyallup Farmers Market, held Thursday evenings and Saturdays at a downtown park.

“Our market usually tends to be at its fullest at 70 degrees. Anything over that, it’s a little too warm,” said Brittany Brown, market manager.

“I’m just having a lot of vendors calling saying that their products are too hot to cut. Their products are not up to their expectations,” she said. “The strawberries are gone. We’re definitely low on some berries, and the wilt is happening a lot sooner of the lettuce. Some vendors don’t have enough flowers — the sun is burning them.”

“We’re working with what we’ve got,” said Katie Green of Wild Hare Organic Farm. “We do wonder what August looks like. Farming is always a gamble.”

Again, do not despair.

“It’s going to be a great year for tomatoes,” she said.