It’s another warm, early spring day on the farm of Joe O’Daniel, whose 116 acre property sits off of Cemetery Road, heading out of Bowling Green. He says signs of this year’s short winter and early, warm spring are all around him. While it’s not that uncommon to have a few 80 degree days in late winter or early spring, this year’s numerous warm days and have challenged O'Daniel to find ways to unload a larger-than-usual bounty of early spring crops.
“And I’m scrambling to find markets for those real rapid-growing plants because they’re producing more than I’m accustomed to, and more than my customers will take. And they’ll bolt and go to seed sooner because it’s hot," he says.
Fans of farmers’ market produce know that one of the first things to look for in mid-April to early May is leafy greens. Joe O’Daniel says his spinach shot up out of the ground weeks earlier than usual.
“In a week’s time that spinach bed just exploded in growth, and whereas I might normally get five or six weeks of good cuttings off that spinach, I may only get three weeks now. It depends on the temperatures from here on out," says the Warren County farmer.
Throughout our region—and indeed, across many parts of the country—farmers have been faced with several questions following the warmer-than-usual weather. They've had to decide whether or not to pull crops out of the ground early. And they've had to guess whether or not they think there will be another freeze in the coming weeks.
“This year I had to make a decision at the beginning of the month," said Joe O'Daniel. "I’m not supposed to be planting broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce until the middle or later part of March, and I’m looking at ten days early on where the temperatures were well into the 80s. I wasn’t looking at any freezes, so I decided to go ahead and plant those cool-season crops.”
It’s a predicament Paul Wiediger can understand. He owns an 84 acre farm in Edmonson County, and is also seeing an unusual early bounty of crops for this time of year.
“A lot of us are putting things out earlier than usual, in hopes that things will work out. We just have to keep our fingers crossed. There are ways of making this work. A number of us are using high tunnels, and those are kind of like small, unheated greenhouses. They help us extend the season and give us some protection if it gets really cold," said Wiediger.
High tunnels allow farmers to grow crops in the ground like they normally would, but under longer, narrow tents that regulate the temperature and amount of sunlight the crops receive. It extends the growing season for producers, and allows customers to purchase organically-grown, local produce during times of the year when it otherwise wouldn’t be available.
Back at the O’Daniel farm in Warren County, Joe gave a visiting reporter a quick tour of the lettuce on offer inside one of his high tunnels. Beautiful and full-grown, the green and red leaves are currently unpicked.
To avoid potential waste, O’Daniel says he’s been selling a lot of excess leafy greens to a wholesaler in Louisville. He’d normally sell a pound of fresh spinach for $9 a pound at a farmer’s market. The wholesaler gives him $6 a pound. While not the best deal he can get, Joe O’Daniel says it’s better than letting things go to waste.