With spring off to a record-breaking start, certain consequences of the warmth are already becoming apparent.
Plants are growing faster and earlier than normal, leaving them vulnerable to frost damage in the next several weeks, when the chance of frost persists. This is unhappy news for the home gardener but a major concern for the farmer.
“The biggest danger is the fruit,” said Tim Stanton of Stanton’s Feura Farm in Feura Bush. “They’re starting to bloom, and we have two months left of possible frost.”
Fruit trees and bushes caught in bloom by a frost will lose their crop, according to Chuck Bornt, Cornell Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist, but are less vulnerable to low temperatures after their bloom.
Stanton hopes the weather will stay warm long enough for his crop to get through the bloom, at which point a frost would be less devastating.
Farmers are taking some precautions to avoid frost damage. Many are not planting vegetables, despite the warmth, until the threat of frost diminishes.
“There are some guys planting a little sweet corn,” Bornt said, “but the thought of frost is keeping guys from going crazy with the planting.”
Perennial crops like fruit trees operate on their own schedule, and if there is a frost, there is not much farmers can do.
“Some guys hire helicopters to hover over their crops to keep the air moving.” Stanton said, “but if it gets down into the low 20s, it’s just going to freeze.”
The warmth is causing different problem in another sector of agriculture — tulips.
“Nobody but Mother Nature knows when they will bloom,” said Susan Cleary, director of special events for the city of Albany, “but they will be early.”
The Tulip Festival is Albany’s
longest running annual event, with 2012 marking its 64th consecutive year. Planning for the Mother’s Day weekend festival is shaping up well, according to Cleary, but the tulips might bloom too early for the event.
Albany City Gardener Jessica Morgan and her staff began this year’s planting as they do every year, starting last October and planting the 125,000 bulbs by Dec. 15, but this spring has been different.
“We’re playing catch-up right now,” she said, “cleaning up, checking growth, making sure all the beds are perfect.”
Though the tulips are a few weeks further along, Morgan says a good portion of the bulbs are late bloomers and she remains “cautiously optimistic” that they will still be around by May 12-13.
“I’m hoping the turnout for the festival is the same whatever happens with the tulips,” Cleary said. “It encompasses lots of activities. There’s great live music, craft shows and the coronation of the Tulip Queen. It’s a great Mother’s Day weekend for the whole family.”
The Albany Special Events staff will keep track of the tulip growth, according to Cleary, and release Facebook alerts on peek bloom days.
“Come early and often to see them,” is Morgan’s catch phrase of the season.
Early blooms also bring early high pollen levels and another pesky downside of the warm weather — allergies.
“We’ve seen patients already with allergy symptoms,” said Dr. Kirsi Jarvinen-Seppo from Albany Medical Center’s Division of Allergy and Asthma. “Usually at the very end of March we start to see tree pollens, but we already have medium-high levels of pollen in the air, so most people with pollen allergies are feeling the symptoms.”
Jarvinen-Seppo said the main culprits for the early pollen are elm and maple trees.