Backyard Sheds

Local farms thrive in dryer spring


HILLSDALE–Lawns in the northern half of the county look a little greener than lawns in the southern half, but the county as a whole has had a normal amount of rainfall over the past three months, which is good news for farmers and consumers.

And nowadays with increasing use of irrigation, drought does not present as much of a threat to local vegetable and fruit crops as too much rain or cold temperatures.

Fruits and vegetables of all varieties are maturing a bit early this growing season, according to Jake Samascott, one of the owners of Samascott Orchards in the Village of Kinderhook.

While “most everything looks good so far,” said Mr. Samascott, only a “normal” harvest is expected from some fruit crops that early on promised a bumper year. A late May frost claimed some small percentage of Samascotts’ five acres of plums; 10 acres of cherries; and affected certain varieties among their 100 acres of apples.

Some of the fruits, which were small and green when the frost hit, were frozen and killed. But some apples that did not perish will bear frost-inflicted marks–rusty streaks–as evidence of injury, said the farmer.

Blueberries were not hurt at all, and the Samascotts were able to irrigate their strawberries to prevent them from freezing.

The peach crop took a small hit, but “nothing major,” and most of the vegetables were not harmed because they were not yet in the ground, said Mr. Samascott, who said that his farm is already picking onions, garlic, turnips, radishes and spinach, while crops like tomatoes, peppers and sweet corn are making good progress.

This growing season is apparently going well in the midsection of the county as well, because a farmer in the Claverack/Greenport area The Columbia Paper tried to reach for this story was too busy picking strawberries and baling hay to talk.

While conditions were “pretty dry” over the past several weeks, an inch of rain over the weekend brought welcome relief.

“Drought would not hurt us too much,” said Mr. Samascott, because most of the fruit crop is irrigated to keep it properly watered.

On the other hand, too much rain can be disastrous, especially for tomatoes because “it brings in the blight,” he said.

The late blight, a fungus, put a substantial damper on the tomato harvest in some areas last year.

Though his place was not hit as hard by last year’s infamous tomato-rotting disease as some larger growers, Mr. Samascott said he has heard of blight spotted this year in Pennsylvania.

Rainfall throughout the Columbia County has been between 90 and 100% of normal–drier to the south and wetter to the north, according to Ray O’Keefe, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s Albany Office.

Average rainfall, calculated using measurements collected in Copake from 1971 to 2000, is 3.37 inches in March, 3.64 inches in April, 4.34 inches in May and 1.01 inches from June 1 to 7, for a total average rainfall of 12.36 inches.

This year in Copake, 3.57 inches of precipitation fell in March, 3.25 inches in April, 3.22 inches in May and .96 inches from June 1 to 7, a total of 11 inches, or 89% of the normal, said Mr. O’Keefe.

Columbia County Cornell Cooperative Extension Agent Steve Hadcock said figures listed in an extension publication put the rainfall amount in Hudson as of June 2 this year at 5.5 inches, as compared to just over 7.5 inches last year.

At the Valatie Research Farm, the average monthly rainfall based on the past 33 years (1971-2004) of data for April and May is 4.6 inches, while the actual rainfall for April and May this year is 5.19 inches, according to Mr. Hadcock.

“We haven’t had much rain over the last three weeks,” said the extension agent, noting some areas got some needed rain over the weekend, while some farmers found it necessary to irrigate.

Fruit specialists have encouraged farmers to irrigate, especially newly planted trees that have undeveloped root systems, he said.

Quoting one of his college professors, Mr. Hadcock said, “If you put one hand in the freezer and the other hand in the oven, on average, you’re going to be warm.”

When dealing with averages, he said, data do not reflect that a deficit can be made up with one rain event.

Pointing to the rainfall variations within the county, Mr. O’Keefe noted, “that’s the way summer precipitation is, it’s mostly thunderstorms that have a mind of their own–they’re hit and miss.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Mr. O’Keefe said Columbia County “splits the difference” between drier counties like Dutchess and Ulster to the south and the wetter ones, like Rensselaer and Albany counties to the north.

To contact Diane Valden email

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