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The weather is drying up streams, speeding up pumpkins

Last modified: 9/10/2015 1:04:49 AM
Your yard might be turning brown, and some streams are getting awfully low, but for Josh Marshall the hot, dry second half of summer has produced a different sort of concern.

“I hope people don’t get used to having pumpkins in August,” said the operator of Marshall Pumpkin Farm in Boscawen.

It’s barely September and Marshal has already harvested “a few truckloads of pumpkins and a bunch of squash,” which is way ahead of schedule for these autumn-harvest specialties.

This early ripening, which is affecting other crops such as sweet corn, is the result of weeks of little rain and high temperatures.

The National Weather Service says Concord has had a little more than half of the expected rain so far this month (0.38 inches rather than the average of 0.70 inches) and is 3.24 inches below the total for the year as a whole (23.7 inches as compared with the historic average of 27 inches).

One result, said Ted Diers, administrator of the state’s Watershed Management Bureau, can be seen in streams. He pointed to an automatic gauge on the Warner River in Davisville, a river that has no dams and thus reflects the conditions in Merrimack County. As of Tuesday, it was at just 4.4 percent of its average over the past 52 years, running barely 6 cubic feet per second.

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services runs an in-stream flow program on two rivers – the Lamprey in the Seacoast and the Souhegan in Southern New Hampshire – as a test for a program that may be expanded to other rivers in future years, if the Legislature agrees.

Both those rivers have gotten so dry that water management programs have kicked in, asking some communities to reduce the amount of water they draw from the steams, Diers said.

“We’re watching the Souhegan and the Lamprey very, very closely. What we’re seeing is, if not historic, are very low flows,” he said.

It has also been warm.

One measure of this is “cooling days,” which counts the cumulative difference above a selected daily high temperature experienced by an area during the season. As of Tuesday, Concord had seen 23 percent more cooling days than average.

Back in pumpkin fields, the effect of the weather is visible all over.

“Pumpkins are really ripening up quickly. I was surprised driving around this weekend,” said George Hamilton, vegetable specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension in Goffstown. “(Farmers are) asking, ‘What should I do?’ ”

The problem is that you can’t just leave pumpkins in the field if it’s dry enough to make the vine wither, Marshall said. “Once the vines die, they’ll start taking moisture out of the fruit. You’ll get rotten stems . . . the pumpkins will dry out.”

So farmers have to collect them early, which means they need a good place to store them until it’s prime Jack-o’-lantern time, not to mention the labor and time to begin pumpkin harvesting when they really need to be doing something else.

Operating a farm requires good timing as much as anything, and the weather has scrambled plenty of schedules.

Hamilton pointed to sweet corn as an example. New Hampshire farmers have two or three plantings between spring and fall, designed to ripen at different times and stretch out the season, but a shortage of rain sped things up.

“The block of sweet corn they were hoping would come in two weeks from now is ripening up sooner, so that we’re seeing different (plantings) coming all together,” Hamilton said.

At the Marshall Pumpkin Farm, where the family has grown pumpkins since the 1970s, one cost has been the need for more irrigation, which isn’t cheap.

Still, Marshall said, farming requires the ability to roll with the punches.

“That’s nothing that is a total disaster. You set yourself up, prepare yourself,” Marshall said.

And you can even look on the bright side: “It’s better than having too much water, I’ll tell you that,” he said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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