The fields of pumpkins sprawling across the hillside at Walter’s Fruit Ranch in Green Bluff are early this year, bright splotches of color signaling the ripeness of the gourds with weeks to go until Halloween.
The hot, dry weather has been making crops ripen weeks ahead of schedule all summer. It was particularly bad in July, when growers had to harvest cherries weeks before the annual Cherry Festival. People who arrived on their traditional picking weekends found the trees already bare.
“We had the worst cherry pick this year,” said Walter’s Fruit Ranch owner Jason Morrell. “That’s the first crop for us. People didn’t even know to come.”
Things were the same at Harvest House.
“We’ve been two to three weeks early since strawberries in June,” owner Todd Beck said.
Beck said he usually starts picking cherries on July 20, which is in the middle of the Cherry Festival. This year, he started picking on June 26, a weekend that saw temperatures over 100 degrees.
“They had to be picked off the trees quick,” he said.
The annual Apple Festival starts Sept. 19 and is held every weekend until Oct. 25. Honeycrisp apples already are ripe and other apple varieties also should be done early as well.
“I wouldn’t wait until the last weekend to get apples off the trees,” Morrell said.
But there also have been benefits to the long, hot days. Early this week, Morrell still had sweet corn and peaches, two items normally done growing by this time of year.
“You’ll be able to get peaches and apples on the same weekend,” he said.
The vegetables at Eleven Acres have been growing like desert flowers after a rain, resulting in piles of zucchini and tomato plants that sag under the weight of their bounty.
“The things like the peppers are just exploding now,” owner Joyce Hunt said. “Right now, we’re bulging at the seams with tomatoes.”
Her farm also grows numerous other vegetables, including cucumbers, squash and green beans.
“Most everything did really well,” Hunt said. “It was hard to keep everything watered.”
Beck said the weather made his peaches last longer as well, and the first Honeycrisp apples coming off the trees have been large and blemish-free.
“Even though stuff is early, it’s still great,” he said.
Though it’s early to be picking pumpkins, Morrell said, customers have been buying the early ripened fruit. As long as they aren’t cut into, they won’t rot before Halloween, he said.
Beck buys pumpkins from other Green Bluff farms rather than growing his own, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped paying attention to the now-cooler weather. “We’re hoping that we don’t have too much of an early frost,” he said. A heavy frost could doom the already ripe gourds.
All three growers plan to be open for the Apple Festival that starts Sept. 19, but people should plan to visit their favorite farm sooner rather than later.
“If you want to know what’s ripe, just call us,” Beck said.
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