April 09, 2020
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June frosts affecting northern Maine farms and gardens

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
A tractor pulls a potato planter on a field outside of Fort Kent in this 2015 file photo. Cold temperatures this spring have made farmers take preventive measures to protect their plants.

It’s early June, but the last few days have felt more like winter than summer as unseasonably cool temperatures have rolled across the state.

But in Aroostook County, the cold has packed a punch. Temperatures have dropped down low enough that at least one anxious gardener in the St. John Valley reportedly is keeping their tomato plants on their kitchen tables for safety’s sake, in a slight twist on the farm-to-table movement. And one farmer who wasn’t able to bring all his seedlings inside for safekeeping has paid a price.

“Our blueberries took a beating. Our cucumbers got all frozen and we had to throw them out,” Joe Bouchard of Bouchard Family Farm in Fort Kent said Thursday. “The tomato plants were in the greenhouse and they still got a touch of frost.”

One recent night, the temperature dropped down to 26 degrees, he said. That’s the night that proved fatal to the 30 or so cucumber seedlings, which also were in his greenhouse. And that was just the worst of four or five frosty nights.

“I’m kind of used to it. We’ve seen cold springs before,” Bouchard said. “The thing is, it was warm and everything was budding. It was going good. Then we got the killer frost. That hurts.”

He’s not the only one in northern Maine to have gotten a little weather whiplash from the recent meteoric rise and rapid plunge of the thermometer. In Caribou, Kimber Noyes, co-owner of Noyes Florist & Greenhouse, said that one day, it was 91 degrees, and then dropped down to 37 at night. The next night it dipped below freezing.

“Every spring is a challenge,” he said, adding that this spring has been more challenging than usual. “The snow stayed a little longer on the ground this year, so it kind of put everything back a little, especially the commercial farming. As far as the greenhouse, it was a slow start because it was so cold and overcast. No one could get in their garden.”

It seems to him that gardeners up there are about two weeks later than normal in terms of planting seeds and working the soil. And in an area that usually has a 90 or 95 day window between the last frost and the first frost, those 14 days matter.

“In some places, it seems so strange,” he said, remarking on the speed at which spring can come to Aroostook County. “One week there will be remnants of snow still. And then everything starts greening up.”

Linda Trickey, an agricultural assistant for Aroostook County with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said that she recommends that gardeners don’t set out their transplants until after Memorial Day weekend. And even then, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be a frost.

“We’ve had pockets of frost everywhere,” she said. “Many places haven’t been affected, but in the low-lying areas, there have been several reports of frosted tomato plants.”

The unseasonably chilly conditions also have been slowing down the germination of certain crops, such as corn, she said. Cool weather plants also have been affected.

“They’re growing. They’re just not flourishing, shall we say,” Trickey said, adding that the recent dearth of rain likewise is contributing to a slower start to the growing season for farmers and gardeners. “Farming is a very tough way to make a living.”

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