The early 2014 growing season hasn’t been kind to many commercial growers and backyard gardeners from Bayfield to Dove Creek and south to Marvel.
Lulled by a warm winter, they planted early but then got broadsided by a cold snap, including frost in mid-June.
“The winter was warm, and the spring cold,” said Heidi Rohwer who, with her mother, Judy, grows a variety of vegetables and fruits on 9 acres north of Cortez toward Dove Creek. “The trees bloomed early, but then the cold came.”
She lost apples, peaches, plums and, for the first time, pears, she said. Apricots, too, but they’re hit and miss every year so she’s not too worried.
Rohwer expects to salvage raspberries and grapes from the season.
Darrin Parmenter, horticulturist and director of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension in Durango, said the microclimates typical of Southwest Colorado don’t make for consistent outcome.
In Marvel where Jim Dyer farms, it was pretty much hit and miss.
“This year has been especially bad,” he said. “Here, we had drought mixed with temperature variations.”
Dyer’s pears survived the cold, but he’ll have meager crops of apples and cherries.
“Actually, the birds got the cherries,” Dyer said.
“We had frosts, but even with the temperature in the upper 30s, we had damage to our beans and squash,” he said.
Emily Jensen of Homegrown Farm east of Bayfield said late frost claimed half of her cucumbers and ruined the tips of many greens.
“We were teased by it being warm in May, so we put in corn, squash and cucumbers earlier than usual,” Jensen said. “Then we got two deep freezes after the middle of June. Usually, we’re out of the woods with frost by June 10.”
The cold also slowed her broccoli and cabbage, Jensen said.
“They took two weeks off in June,” she said.
Unpredictable weather has kept growers guessing – and hurting.
Linley Dixon of Adobe House Farm said unseasonable cold in June was hard on tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, which thrive with warm nights and hot days.
“We had a frost scare in June,” she said.
“You can’t risk frost,” she said. “You have to cover plants with frost blankets.”
Watermelons and zucchini also are sensitive to cold, Dixon said.
Wind – and there have been a number of high-wind days – closes the stomata, the microscopic pores on leaves and stems that regulate the exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor, affecting the growth of plants, she said.
Austin Gorton, who grows an abundance of vegetables on 1 acre between the Florida River and County Road 234 about six miles out of Durango, has a following.
Eighteen customers prepaid before harvest began for a weekly basket of whatever is in season. Gorton also sells at the Durango Farmers Market and from 3 to 7 p.m. Fridays at a stand on his own farm.
“The biggest issue has been the cold,” he said. “We couldn’t plant at the normal time.
“Then a light frost June 20 damaged beans, watermelon and potatoes,” he said. “Squash and corn also are tender to cold.”
Parmenter said weather patterns confound growers.
“June had hot days, but interspersed with cold nights,” he said. “Crops don’t like big swings in temperature. It’s not conducive to good growth.”
But consistent weather patterns aren’t normal, Parmenter said.
“The abnormal is the normal,” he said.