Rita Hipolito spent part of last week surveying how the mild winter with multiple temperature changes affected half of her two-acre berry crop near Brentwood. While the strawberries looked good enough to sell at her farm stand during Easter weekend, some of the blackberries were failing to grow normally for the upcoming season.
"The constant change of weather from cold to warm is affecting mainly the blackberries and boysenberries this year," the Brentwood farmer said. "The frost causes them to freeze, and they get soft and go bad."
The owner of Berry Best said temperatures need to be at least 40 degrees at night to prepare and safeguard produce for the U-pick and produce stand openings in mid- to late May. Hipolito and other far Eastern Contra Costa County farmers now fear that the unusual winter may push back the start of the summer fruit season.
Oakley's Dwelley Farms owner Mark Dwelley said area farmers can usually predict a seven- or 10-day period when early spring fruit such as strawberries and cherries will be ready for the upcoming rush of U-pick and fruit stand enthusiasts, but this year is different.
"It leaves the timing up in the air as to when things will come off," Dwelley said this week. "We are not having normal weather. You usually have some confidence in those estimations, but it is not following a certain pattern on when things will ripen."
He added that plants didn't flower all at once as in years past. The
Dwelley Farms manager Patrick Johnston said produce conditions will improve if the weather warms up and remains that way. Johnston said the earlier lack of rain also made it difficult to get irrigation water from some of the sloughs near Discovery Bay because of low tides.
"Also, the spacing in between the rain has an impact when you are planting crops in certain timing for a consistent supply in the summer," he said. "As summer continues, we would like to see more rain."
The lack of rain has impacted the hay crops and dry farming such as oats and wheat most, said Darrell Hartey, owner of The Stand in Knightsen.
"They are banking on Mother Nature to take care of the water for them, and they still are in some respect," he said. "It is nice to have the rains come."
Hartey stays open all year to sell winter produce and farm-fresh eggs, but he is looking forward to a good season with plenty of tomatoes and strawberries.
"There were some cold days, but the overall picture has been pretty good," he said. "It was shaky there for a little while, but we got some rain."
Over at Dwelley Farms, Johnston said that the berries are doing fine and that the early pluots have set well. Managers plan to open the fruit stand on Delta Road just before Memorial Day, and their commercial crops will be ready in late May or early June, depending on the weather.
"Weather always brings little challenges, but nothing here is insurmountable," Johnston said.
To locate U-picks and produce stands in far East Contra Costa, visit www.harvest4you.com.