READFIELD — Timing is everything.

Not 10 minutes after Elmer Elvin said the last thing he wanted to see was more rain, buckets of it dumped from the sky all over his farm and across western Kennebec County.

Dark clouds had been massing to the west of Elvin Farm on Lane Road as the temperature started to rise Sunday morning, warming the region up for the weekend that marks the unofficial start of the summer season. But with that warmth came the conditions ripe for thunderstorm warnings and more of the rain that has soaked the region this year.

For people who make their living growing food and flowers, the end of May is generally a busy time of year. Farmers such as Elvin say the wet, cool spring has delayed planting and compelled farms to wait until conditions favor planting.

“We’ll get a crop,” Elvin said. “We always do. You just have to be patient.”

The weather forecast for the region calls for more waiting this week.

John Cannon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gray, said more showers are expected in the coming days.

“We can always hope for a pattern change, but we won’t see one this week,” Cannon said.

Weather systems pushing their way east across the United States will bring scattered showers from Tuesday through Friday, he said, but that’s only part of the equation. Snowstorms last winter left a layer of snow that was slow to melt. Even as it melted, a cool, showery period added more moisture to the mix.

The threatening weather didn’t keep gardeners away from the greenhouses on the Elvin farm, where flats of flowers and vegetables have been growing with the aid of furnace-provided heat and the protection of plastic sheeting.

“People started coming earlier than I thought they would, and they’ve been steady,” said Wendy Elvin, Elvin’s daughter, even though sales are a little behind where they were a year ago.

As with the field crops, timing is also critical for the plants started in the greenhouse. Seeds are started with the goal of having flats of vegetables and flowers ready on time, traditionally by Memorial Day weekend.

“Things are clearing out very quickly this weekend,” Wendy Elvin said.

But that’s not the end of the sales. As summer residents return and open up their camps a little later this year, they’ll want to plant their gardens and window boxes.

Just as the rain started to pelt down in Readfield, Tom Stevenson was trying to get some planting done on his farm on Tucker Road in Wayne.

“We had this freakish thunderstorm,” Stevenson said later in the afternoon. “It’s been like this this spring, where we get rained out and have to finish planting later. It’s been a scramble.”

At Stevenson Strawberry Farm, where the crops are strawberries, peas, corn, melons and pumpkins, Stevenson has been searching out his best opportunities to plant.

“We have to jump around and find the dry ground,” he said.

A rain gauge shows three-quarters of an inch of water May 20 on the flooded flower fields at Elvin Farm in Readfield. Wendy Elvin, who cultivates the flowers, said she has refrained from planting yet to protect the crop from the freezes and heavy rain this spring. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

By his uneducated guess, the strawberry season will be anywhere from four days to up to a week late. Stevenson said the winter rye that he grows for straw for his strawberry plants did not fare well with the all the water an ice, so now he’ll be planting oats.

“This is a drainage year,” Stevenson said. “Other years are irrigation years.”

This spring has been the first really wet spring in several years. A year ago, central Maine had dry conditions from April through the first part of June before the rain started falling.

At this time last year, Cannon said, the region was about to enter a period of widespread drought, the same pattern that had emerged the year before.

At the Elvin farm, nothing is in the ground yet, not even the potatoes, which are the first crop to go in.

“You can go play in the mud if you want to, but it doesn’t make any money and it doesn’t get the crops in any better,” Elvin said.  “So just wait.”

If patience is a virtue for farmers, so is perspective.

Elvin said if people in Maine is feeling sorry for themselves over the weather, they have only to look to the Midwest, where record-breaking flooding has devastated communities and farms across more than a half-dozen states, washing away homes and washing out fields, dumping debris and dead livestock in its wake. It’s not clear whether any of those farmers will be able to plant crops this year.

“It puts them right out of sync with planting,” he said. And if they are delayed much longer, they won’t be able to plant at all.

In Maine, milder conditions are expected to move in next week, Cannon said. It’s tough at this time of year because the ground can warm up nicely, but winter is still sticking around aloft at the jet stream level, and that creates unstable conditions.

Whatever happens, Elvin is ready to wait.

“If we get some more rain, we’ll have to put if off another week,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a while, and we always get a crop.”

 

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