By SHAWN RYAN, Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Hot and dry is just what a vintner hopes for.
“This year, in spite of bad weather all over the country, it’s been fairly close to ideal for grapes,” said Richard Lamoy, owner of Hid-N-Pines Vineyard in Schuyler Falls.
“Grapes love warm, dry weather — as long as it’s not too dry.”
Even the cold, hardy varieties grown in this region thrive in the kind of heat delivered up through July and early August.
Lamoy said his vines are producing both more and bigger grapes this year, and ripening is about a week ahead of schedule.
It’s a welcome switch from last year, when Lamoy lost about 40 percent of his crop to Tropical Storm Irene.
“Last year was a disaster,” agreed Ron Pray, owner of Pray’s Family Farms in Keeseville.
On Aug. 28, the Ausable River flooded as Irene blew
through, destroying 95 percent of Pray’s fields. Most of the pumpkin crop washed away, among other losses.
This year, he’s happy to have the river wet his fields, but in a controlled way, through irrigation.
“It’s been very dry,” Pray said earlier this month. “We started up irrigation about a month ago. This year, it’s a b
etter growing season overall because we’re able to water.”
For Jane Gregware, who runs a small farm stand in the Chazy hamlet of Ingraham, water — other than rain — is somewhat harder to come by. She has the resources to water some of her growing vegetables, but her sweet corn is left to the mercy of the elements.
There had been “close to enough” rain to get by when she first began filling baskets with corn to sell by the road, but the excessive heat was having an effect on her sweet-corn crop.
“It’s stunting the corn some. And the heat, it’s bringing all the corn ready at once,” she said. “The warmth is kind of rushing the stuff that was planted later.
“So I’m getting a lot ready all at one time.”
‘NOT A BAD YEAR’
Along with the timing problem, Gregware has noticed the ears aren’t quite as big as she would expect. But, she said, the heat also can make the corn taste sweeter.
Pray explained that corn needs water just as it’s ready to be picked in order to fill out. If not, dry tips can be the result.
Irrigation is costly for Pray, but he takes the added expense in stride. Some of that is passed along to consumers, but he said that, with the other positives of this growing season, the prices overall should be pretty good.
“For the year so far, it looks good. It’s not an exceptional year, but it’s not a bad year.
As for Lamoy, even if higher yields hold out throughout this growing season, he doesn’t think that there will be a glut of grapes that might adversely affect prices.
“This is such a new area around here for grape growing and wine making that we can use every grape that’s grown, so it really shouldn’t affect the price much.”
LATE BLIGHT DANGER
Both Pray and Gregware agreed that a bigger problem facing local farmers this summer is late blight, which showed up in late July in both West Chazy and Plattsburgh. The fungus can wipe out tomato and potato crops, and the only way to keep it from spreading is to destroy infected plants.
The year 2009 saw a severe problem with late blight in the North Country.
Too little water, too much, storms and floods and disease.
Summing up this growing season — and any other, Gregware said with a laugh, “Farming is more of a gamble than going to Vegas.”