Some Maine farmers lost as much as 60% to 90% of their apple crop because of a late May freeze. Greg Sweetser, owner of Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, inspects a stripe on a Red Delicious apple that was caused by that cold snap. It’s known as a frost ring. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Talk to Maine farmers about their experiences during the extraordinarily wet, cool 2023 growing season, and the same words keep popping up: “hard,” “challenging” and “stressful.”

“There’s always something every year, one crop that’s not doing as well. But this year, it felt like a lot. It was a stressful year,” said Jessi Chmielewski of Jessiwaine Farm in West Newfield, who added that it’s the worst season she’s endured in her 10 years of farming.

“Overall the season was good, just very wet and a new set of challenges we haven’t really seen in the past 10 years as far as a lack of sunshine,” said Ariel Provencal, assistant farm manager at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. “We’ve never really seen our early corn (husks) yellow before due to lack of photosynthesis.”

“Twenty-plus days of rain a month is what’s hindered a lot of us,” said Tucker Jordan of Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth. “The weeds love it. The only blessing is I don’t have to pay Portland Water District to water the fields.”

Unlike the past few years, drought was not an issue this season for Maine farmers. But a late May killing frost, a lack of warm days in the first half of summer, and extreme rainfall – we experienced the sixth-wettest June since 1871, according to the National Weather Service – made growing conditions problematic at many area farms.

Still, the season hasn’t been a total bust. Some crops responded well to the summer’s unusual climate, and some crops like corn, which got off to a late start because of the uncooperative weather, are faring well now.


We talked with farmers and farming experts about which crops fared best and worst for them. Their responses often varied widely, because the frost damage they incurred depended in part on the latitude and elevation of their farms. Likewise, the frequent, intense rainfall hurt farms with poorly draining or low-lying clay fields more than farms with sandier soil that could drain better.

Still, we can reach some broad conclusions about particular crops. Here we offer a rundown of the winners and losers of the 2023 harvest to this point in the season.


Wild Blueberries

Maine blueberries have mostly done well his year. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Blueberries: Though the state’s signature fruit crop got off to a slow start – hampered in part by the late frost – blueberries fared well this year. The rain proved beneficial, helping plump the berries larger than they’ve been in recent years. Keith Harmon, sales and market manager at Fairwinds Farm in Bowdoinham, said Fairwinds’ high-bush berries did particularly well because they weren’t as susceptible to ground frost.

Brassicas: Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage all seemed to fare well, although the early crops were damaged by the rains at some farms. Jan Goranson of Goranson Farm in Dresden said her kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard thrived as the season progressed. Mariam Taleb, organic production specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, noted that brassicas grown in clay soil have been more susceptible to disease this year, while sandy-soil crucifers have done just fine.

Dahlias, zinnias, and other cut flowers liked this year’s odd weather. Michele McDonald/Photo Editor

Fall flowers: Spectacular bouquets featuring sunflowers, zinnias, and dahlias adorn many farm-stand displays right now. “Our zinnias are better than they’ve ever been,” said Chmielewski, while Carolyn Snell of Snell Family Farm said her family farm’s dahlias are thriving. “I think they’re thirsty,” Snell said. “As long as they’re well-drained, they do want a lot of water.”


Green beans: Though it struggled with mold at times this year, the bean crop at Pineland Farms, like many other area farms, has been good. Snell said her farm’s beans made out much better this year than last when conditions were too dry.

Despite a lot of rain, beekeepers say it’s been an OK honey season in Maine. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Honey: The May frost meant fewer fruit blooms for the bees early this season, while prolonged rains caused area beekeepers to harvest their honey later than usual this summer. Still, they report the yield was just about at the usual levels. “On balance, this year is better than the last three years, where we had extended dry periods. I had no second harvest for the three years before this,” said Geoff MacLean at Red Brook Honey in Scarborough.

Leafy greens: Nearly all of the farmers we talked with reported robust, high-quality leafy greens crops. Andrews said the romaine at Tiny Acres was an especially good early-season crop. Chmielewski specified that the leafy greens that were started in a greenhouse at Jessiwaine Farm, then later transplanted, did very well, but the greens they direct-seeded into the fields, like their spinach crop, washed away in the rains.

At Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland, green beans grew well this season, but onions did not. By and large, in Maine, carrots struggled. At the retail store, Sweetser’s employee Merry Fogg arranges vegetables. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Onions: Taleb said the farmers she’s talked with report that onions are doing great this year. “They love getting water,” she said. Still, some farms struggled with the crop. David Andrews of Tiny Acres Farm in Montville said the wet weather allowed the weeds to grow unchecked around his onions for much of the summer, while Goranson said her onions didn’t grow well this year. “They like to be watered from the bottom rather than the top,” she said.

Peppers/eggplants: Like tomatoes, their fellow nightshades, sweet bell peppers, and eggplants got off to a late start this year but produced a high-quality crop, if stunted somewhat in yield. Most of the farmers at a recent Wednesday Portland Farmers’ Market had bountiful displays of shiny, boldly colored bell peppers and eggplants. “It makes us wonder that maybe some crops could use more water than we’d think,” Goranson said.

Potatoes: Another big Maine crop, spuds have done well this season according to farmers we interviewed. Taleb said she’s heard “mixed reviews” from farmers, but noted that one benefit of the persistent rains is that fewer pests mean healthier potatoes. Chmielewski said the dreaded potato bugs were, thankfully, weeks late arriving at her potatoes this year. Jordan said the Alewives Brook Farm potatoes have fared well largely because they’re planted on higher ground. Conversely, Goranson said she lost part of her potato crop this year because it rotted in the ground.


Radishes: Heavy rainfall didn’t bother this early-season crop. “They loved all the rain,” said Ruby Nelson of Merrifield Farm in Cornish. Andrews said the cool temperatures in the first part of the summer helped the radishes develop crunchy, sweeter flesh and prevented them from becoming harshly spicy.

Sweet corn: While a lack of sunshine delayed the corn crop and caused odd phenomena like yellow husks early in the season, corn has seemed to rebound, many farmers reported. “For the past three weeks it’s really been delicious and the ears have sized up pretty well,” Goranson said. Provencal said while the rain made harvesting difficult and delayed the crop a week or two at Pineland Farms, “we still have at least another month or so of corn to come, and it’s looking good.”


Greg Sweetser, owner of Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, said he lost many of his heirloom apples this year because of a late May frost. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Apples: Taleb said apple crops this year saw a 60% to 90% loss at many orchards around Maine, with the May frost being the main culprit. Greg Sweetser of Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland said slight differences in latitude or elevation between orchards made a big difference in how hard the trees were hurt by the late freeze. “Those unaffected by frost did well, and a one-degree difference in temperature could make all the difference,” he said, noting that the frost took out about one-third of his crop, including many of the heirloom varieties, though his Macoun, Gala, and Spartan apples are very high quality. “Apple trees love water, and the quality of the apples we have are good,” he said.

“For a little while we thought we’d have zero apples,” said Snell, “but we do have some. They’re not quite as pretty as usual, and there’s not a ton, but there’s a good amount.”

Carrots/celery: Wet conditions caused big problems for celery and carrots at many local farms. Jordan said Alewives Brook lost acres of carrots this year as 50 percent of their crop never grew to maturity. Likewise, Tiny Acres Farms had to go to market with skinny, underdeveloped celery because the crop was choked out by weeds that were unable to be curbed during the near-constant rain earlier this summer. Tiny Acres normally sells a celery bunch for $4, but now bundles together three bunches for the same price.


Peaches/plums: While most crops have done OK at Uncle’s Farm in Hollis, peaches and plums completely fizzled. Uncle’s is in good company: Maine’s peach and plum crop was devastated by a day-and-a-half spell of high winds and sub-zero temperatures in February that wiped out those fruits throughout New England. While it’s a relatively small crop in Maine, most farmers said they weren’t able to harvest any of the stone fruits at all this year.

With such a very wet June, strawberries struggled this summer. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Strawberries: The late frost and soggy, muddy early summer made it hard both to grow and harvest strawberries in Maine this year. Chmielewski’s farm lost almost all of the strawberries usually harvested in June, while Alewives Brook Farm lost almost 90 percent of its crop, according to Jordan. Harmon said Fairwinds’ roughly 20,000 hand-planted everbearing strawberries produced almost nothing, though its non-everbearing strawberries did relatively well.

Zucchini/summer squash: The seemingly invincible, bountiful New England zucchini finally met its match.  Squashes have been problematic for many farms, with the damp weather making them more susceptible to mold and mildew. At Alewives Brook, these crops start as seedlings in a greenhouse instead of directly seeding the plants in the field, but the wet conditions didn’t allow the seedlings to be transplanted in time. Still, some farms see hope: Chmielewski said while she lost 90% of her crop earlier, she planted some zucchini and summer squash late this season that she thinks may provide a good yield toward the end of September.


Time will tell how pumpkins and other winter squash do in what has been a difficult growing season. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Pumpkins and winter squash: Taleb said she’s seen disease affecting many winter squash crops around the state. Chmielewski said blight has hit her pumpkins, causing her to lose 90% of the crop, while Jordan said the Alewives Brook crop is also “stunted.” Still, others said they’re optimistic about the fall fruits. “Our pumpkins are going to be great,” Provencal said of Pineland’s crop. “A little bit late because of the rain, but the plants are looking wonderful.” Winter squash has arrived early on some farms like Merrifield and Tiny Acres. “It’s weird to see tomatoes and gourds on the same display, but we have that this year because the tomatoes came later and the pumpkins came early,” Jordan said.

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