As the Grand Valley quickly approaches the end to many growing seasons, there is one crop that still hasn't hit its peak, tomatoes. In a normal season, many growers will start picking ripe tomatoes shortly after the 4th of July. Now, we're on the last day of August and many in the Grand Valley are seeing green tomatoes hanging form their tomato plants, and it's all because of to the weather.
Frank Nieslanik has been growing tomatoes at Okagawa Farms for a little over 18 years now and usually they bring in big business. "Maybe half of my business is tomatoes," says Nieslanik. This year, his crop is taking its sweet time turning ripe. "We're out picking and barely getting enough," says Nieslanik. Everyone from professionals to the small time back yard growers, are experiencing the same shortfall. "They'll come out and say my plants are great big but there are not tomatoes on them," says Nieslanik.
The problem started early on in the growing season. A long cold winter followed but a cooler than normal spring got things off to a late start. "It did not allow pollination to occur," says CSU extension agent and horticulturist, Curtis Swift, Ph.d. Then came the summer heat. July saw seventeen days, at or above, ninety five degrees. Seven of those days were in the triple digits and we even saw a one hundred and five degree day. Heat, that can penetrate deep into the ground. "When roots get more than 90 degrees they shut down," says Swift. Excessive heat is just as damaging to the development of tomatoes as the cold. "They can't take in water and nutrients which we don't have photosynthesis and we don't have hormone production," says Swift.
August temperatures were closer to normal and the tomatoes finally started growing. "We're at least a month, lets say a half month behind on ripening tomatoes," says Swift. Home growers can try a few tricks to speed up the ripening process. Pick the tomatoes and put them on your window seal, or "wrap them in newspapers and put them in a box and slide them under the bed and they will ripen on their own," says Swift.
Farms like Okagawa are finally able to get back to work as usual...
the only problem is, the damage has already been done. "The demand isn't as strong in September as it is in August, you just can't make it up in September," says Nieslanik. Nieslanik says that even though a late tomato crop is damaging to his business it's not a total loss. The produce trucks are still coming to Grand Junction, thanks to a late peach crop.