Tomatoes growing in a field at Snell Family Farm in Buxton on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Peak season for tomatoes and corn usually coincides with the height of tourism in Maine this month, but the season’s wacky weather has made for smaller, spottier harvests so far.

While hit-or-miss visits to the farmers market might disappoint people who are just passing through, return customers could still see a bounty.

Several area farms report that wet and cloudy conditions have stunted their tomato crops, though they remain hopeful drier weather will increase their yield this season.

“We usually have a nice amount (of tomatoes) for most of July, but this year, the early fruit set has been late and has less volume because of the lack of sun in May, June and July,” said Carolyn Snell of Snell Family Farm in Buxton. “It’s just very challenging to have so few hours of sunlight.”

Snell’s farm has been harvesting tomatoes since mid-July, but the yield is about half of what they’d expect so far this season. The farm grows tomatoes in unheated hoop houses and in one heated greenhouse, which Snell said helps in some ways, like protecting the plants from heavy rain.

“But they still need sun,” Snell said. “And they also need to get pollinated. It’s hard for the bees to fly when it rains every day.


“I have my fingers crossed that the month of September will be quite good for tomatoes,” Snell continued. “We grow field tomatoes that come on for the month of September and the plants look quite healthy, but it’s too soon to tell what the fruit set is going to be like out there.”

At Goranson Farm in Dresden, Jan Goranson said her tomato plant production dropped by about 67% in late July.

“We see some struggles in our tomatoes so far,” Goranson said. “It is a big deal. That means we aren’t supplying all of our wholesale accounts. We’re bringing everything we can to sell at the farmers market, but we aren’t able to supply all of the places that love fresh tomatoes, the restaurants and stores.”

Tomatoes at the farm stand at Snell Family Farm in Buxton on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Though they’ve been harvesting since mid-June – roughly the same time they start picking tomatoes each year – Goranson said the early summer weather presented major challenges for her tomato crop, which grows in heated tunnels.

“They don’t really like humidity, and it was very cold early on,” Goranson said. “It was difficult keeping them warm so they would grow quickly enough. They’re just very tender leaf tissue. And when there’s a lot of humidity, there’s a lot of fungus that grows naturally on lots of things, and particularly tomatoes.”

“It’s been a challenge trying to keep the plants healthy,” Goranson added. “We’re a certified organic farm, and there aren’t the options to be able to use protective sprays that conventional farmers might have to keep plants healthier over a longer period of time.”


Still, tomato crops at some Maine farms have fared better so far this season. At Fairwinds Farm in Topsham, owner Charles Rackley said they’ve been using greenhouses for at least some of their tomatoes for at least 10 years, though this year they’ve raised about 85% of them in greenhouses, some heated.

“Definitely things have been later this year because of lack of sunlight and warmth, but it’s not horrible. Overall, they’ve been pretty good,” Rackley said. “It’s been the right move because you can control the environment a little better than out in the field, and we can control how much water we put down and also keep a little bit of the moisture out of the air. The quality of the tomato is better because we’re taking that environmental factor out.”

Tomatoes growing in a hoop house at Snell Family Farm in Buxton on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


The inclement early-season weather has affected corn and other crops in different ways.

David Handley, a vegetable and small-fruit specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said some corn got planted before the onset of heavy rain, which then made it too muddy to plant more.

Once it could be planted, the weather got very hot, speeding up growth for what had already gone in the ground, creating “a real distribution problem.”


But, Handley said, farmers tend to help each other out and lend crops for sale when they have them.

For Goranson, “the corn is growing slower and coming in later,” she said. “Colder temperatures and a lot of rain slowed the growth on that heat-loving crop.”

Still, Goranson said it’s been a great year for Swiss chard and kale at her farm, where the yield of those crops is roughly the same volume as usual, but of very high quality.

Rackley said his sweet corn at Fairwinds is also running late this year and while his brassica plants did well in the early season, midseason cauliflower and broccoli fared poorly. Fairwinds lost 60% of those crops to mold issues.

Yet Rackley reports that his potato crop has been thriving, and raspberries and blueberries are also doing well.

“The blueberries are huge this year because they’ve had so much moisture,” Rackley said. “Our blueberry crop and even our raspberry crop is better than it had been in the last two years because of how much moisture we’ve had. Relatively drier weather in the recent weeks has also kept the berries from rotting in the field.”


Rackley said that at small farms like his, crop diversity is critical, especially during periods when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

“With weather like this, not everything is going to do great,” Rackley said. “But if you’re diverse enough, you’re always going to have some stuff that does pretty good.”

Handley said he’s impressed with how well farmers have handled the season’s many challenges and with the quality of the crops they’ve managed to produce.

But, if you go to certain stands looking for fresh corn, he said, “Just don’t be surprised if farmers say, ‘Next week.’”

Features editor Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.

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