Under a plastic high tunnel at Oystersponds Farm in Orient, there is a reminder that this has not been a regular late fall for the North Fork.
On Tuesday, Dec. 15, for example, the temperature reached a record high of 62 degrees at Macarthur Airport, according to the National Weather Service. It was 38 degrees on the same day in 2014. The average is 36.
Those higher-than-average temperatures this December mean the raspberry vines at the Orient farm are producing edible berries just a few days before Christmas. The photo above was taken on Thursday, Dec. 17.
“We’re already doing season extension, but this is another extreme,” said Oysterponds Farm co-owner and farmer Tom Stevenson. “Usually you think of raspberries as a summer crop.”
The fruit has a lower sugar content and it might be less firm than ideal, but it tastes fine off the vine and still makes a usable base for jam.
This particular variety of raspberries, known as Tula Magic, does continuously bloom throughout the season. However, Stevenson said it is usually dormant by Halloween, though it occasionally continues to produce until Thanksgiving.
In his 20 years of working Long Island agriculture, he has never seen a raspberry plant making fruit so close to Christmas Day, he said.
“You knew it was unseasonably warm, but I was really taken back by this,” he said. “But we were owed this after the last three winters.”
Last year the raspberry plants had stopped producing months earlier than this. And in late August 2011, Hurricane Irene wiped out rows of lush green flowers and fruit which did not produce a viable crop for the rest of the season.
Stevenson does not believe the late warm temperatures will cause any damage to his three acres of raspberry plants. In fact, he’s thankful for this year’s weather.
The warm summer, with lower than average rainfall, meant a bountiful harvest for some farmers on the East End.
“This year was almost ideal. And every one will say that,” he said. “We would rather water [our crops] than get deluged.”
Look for more information on the unseasonably warm weather in the December 24 issue of The Suffolk Times.