Freckle Farm owner Corey Morin helps a customer with her order. His wife and co-owner Keren Morin and their daughter, Anna, stand just behind him at in their booth at Madawaska's Fall Fest. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

MADAWASKA, Maine — It may have been dry, it may have been hot, but Aroostook County was the perfect place to grow vegetables this season.

Over the past several weeks, farmers have been pulling what may be a record-breaking potato harvest from the ground. But the good fortune extended well beyond Aroostook’s largest agricultural export.

The final tallies on the harvest aren’t in yet, but farmers are reporting a stronger-than-expected yield in a variety of crops including cabbage, beets and squash. Although chronic drought continues to be a long-term threat in Maine, well-timed rain and a long growing season made up for it this year.

“We didn’t sell everything. There’s stuff that’s still out in the field,” Caribou farmer Mark Goughan said. “This is an extreme year for yields. This is a high. We don’t generally get this much yield on all the stuff we’ve got. “

At Goughan Farms, vine crops like zucchini, pumpkins and gourds did extremely well — sweet corn and raspberries, too. The farm irrigates, but Goughan said the harvest was still remarkable.

That probably has to do with the timing of the season — which favored even farms that don’t have backup water, like Nature’s Circle Farm in New Limerick.

“We got rain at the right time and we had… some really nice, warm summer days to go along with the rain. It was above average temperatures for our area,” manager Nick Fitzpatrick said. “We did see a big difference from last year. We actually did a lot better than we thought we were going to.”

Although July was cooler than average, June, August and September all saw higher-than-usual average temperatures, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Though the numbers aren’t finalized to determine how much warmer than normal October was, as of Oct. 20 the first hard frost hasn’t yet occurred. Last year, the ‘killing frost’ came in September.

Besides boosting growing conditions, the long, warm season allowed farmers to spend more time harvesting.

“The warmer temperatures in the fall helped us get the crops out,” Fitzpatrick said “If it [had] turned cold, that would have been a lot more difficult. We could have been two weeks behind where we are right now.”

While warm temperatures may complicate storage processes — potatoes can start to rot if temperatures are too high — the weather started to turn in The County this week, and Fitzpatrick said that the large harvest more than made up for the troubles.

Early indications are that farms across the state might have experienced the same good season that Aroostook’s farmers did, though the geographic distance means farms to the south are not on the same harvest calendar as those in northern Maine.

Trent Emery of Emery Farms in Wayne said that in central Maine, the timing of the rain was everything. The spring was dry and he had to irrigate his crop in June, but rain in July and August meant a great harvest for him, too, he said.

“The weather is never quite right in this business. But if I had an optimal season, I would favor a dry spring and then rain in the summertime,” Emery said. “The drought was pretty lousy last year … You can only carry on so much without water.”

From the largest wholesale farms to backyard gardens, everybody got a piece of the bounty this year.

Keren Morin owns Freckle Farm in St. David with her husband. While the pair are in the process of planning and cultivating a future strawberry farm on their land, right now they just have a half-acre vegetable garden.

Though they’ve been gardening for a decade, Morin said between a planned garden expansion and a good season, this was the first time Freckle Farm was able to sell its veggies to the public.

“Pretty much everything in our garden grew well this year,” Morin said.

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.