After a tough growing season in 2020, local farms are returning to normal levels of success with this year’s weather to produce the much anticipated sweet corn.
Greg Forejt Jr. of Windy Heights Farm Market in East Huntingdon said last season was too dry, causing about half of the farm’s harvest to be lost.
This year, however, he had sweet corn ready to sell starting June 26, a week or two earlier than usual.
Even though the spring was a bit dry, Forejt said there was enough rain to keep crops growing. He added that covering his crops in May kept them from succumbing to the mild frost.
“If you are a grower it will be a very good year for you as long as we continue to get rain,” Forejt said.
Tim Hileman, owner of Kistaco Farm Market in Apollo, said his sweet corn won’t be ready until the end of July because he started planting late and had to deal with fluctuating growing temperatures.
Hileman said his sweet corn is usually ready later in the summer compared to other farms because it focuses on apples.
The weather this season, however, was too hot in early April and too cold from the end of the month to early May, prompting Hileman to delay planting the sweet corn by two or three weeks.
Although the weather is “very localized” and fluctuates every year, Hileman said conditions this season were no worse than in the past.
Kistaco Farm currently sells kale, lettuce, snow peas and blueberries. Hileman said he expects cucumbers and apples by the end of June, but the peaches won’t be ready until mid-July.
“It went well. We are always struggling with the weather, ”he said.
Neil Palmer, co-owner and manager of Palmer’s Farm at Unity, said his crops survived the spring because the weather wasn’t too hot and the plants were still relatively young, which meant they didn’t require a lot of water. He added that the dry conditions were beneficial, creating more ideal planting days.
Palmer expects his sweet corn to be ready soon after July 4 and other crops – like cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini – by mid-July.
He said the farm still aims to have sweet corn by July 4, but that doesn’t happen often. The farm had no sweet corn until August 1 last season.
Palmer said the farm opening date depends on when the sweet corn is ready, but he anticipates a “timely harvest and a full season.”
“Last season was so tough,” Palmer said. “It’s going to be so nice to have a normal season and a full harvest season. “
Local farmers have seen cold temperatures and even the “last snow … for a while” last year, according to David Shallenberger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve kind of got back to normal at least as far as the temperature goes,” Shallenberger said of this year’s growing season. “Although we had a cold May this year, (it) wasn’t as bad as last year – not as bad from what I’ve seen.”
Glen Bupp, commercial horticulture educator for Penn State Extension, said late frosts last year caused losses in their sweet corn fields to farmers who live slightly north.
“Anything that can happen after planting early can cause problems,” said Bupp.
Bupp said the farmers who have sweet corn ready by July 4 are the ones who must “navigate the varying weather systems that run through southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Brandon Christner of Christner Farms in Upper Tyrone, Fayette County, said he expects sweet corn to be ready by July 4 and crops such as peppers, green beans and onions by mid-July. The farm already offers cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower.
Christner said the farm’s harvests are usually ready by July 4, but some are being delayed due to the May frost. He explained that sweet corn is on the right track because they’ve covered it, but it’s not worth covering other crops.
According to Christner, this growing season has been typical apart from the frost and cool, wet weather in May. He added that the 40 degree nights he saw in June were “unheard of” for the time of year.
Hil Schramm, co-owner of Schramm Farms & Orchards in Penn Township, said cold nights had delayed some of the farm’s harvests by a week.
He explained that the temperature must stay above 56 degrees for crops to maintain their growth. This season’s fluctuating temperatures have stunted the growth of sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe.
Schramm said he estimates the sweet corn will be ready by July 10 and the green beans by the first week of July. The farm actively picks zucchini, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
“It’s really hot one week and very cold the following week,” said Schramm. “Once you lose those days, they don’t come back just because it’s 90 degrees.”
The Windy Heights Farmer’s Market has also been hit by the pandemic, particularly in the variety of its produce.
Forejt said the farm has increased its production level this season due to the increase in business it received in 2020.
The farm increased its variety of crops and built tall tunnels – which serve as greenhouses without heat – to grow more fruits and vegetables. Forejt also had air conditioning and heating systems installed so that the market could be open all year round.
“There is more interest in locally grown food than ever before,” he said.