Shane Patrick, owner of Pleasant Pond Orchard, said Friday that even before the current hot spell, this summer’s weather has pushed his tree fruits and berries to ripen about two weeks early. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — In the space of 20 minutes Friday afternoon, Shane Patrick delivered the news to two women who stopped at the Pleasant Pond Orchard that that day’s peach harvest had sold out.

“Try back in the morning,” Patrick said. “We’ll pick some more this evening when it cools off. They bruise pretty easily when it’s hot.”

Like everyone else across central Maine, Patrick is dealing with this latest spell of weather that has blanketed the region under a layer of hot, moist air.

That weather pattern, which prompted cooling centers to open up from one end of the state to the other Thursday and into Friday, is offering the promise of at least one broken weather record in Augusta — the record warm low temperature for Augusta on Aug. 13.

“If we stay warmer than 68 degrees, we will have broken that overnight low record,” Greg Cornwell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said, noting that the current record warm temperature in Augusta was set in 1984.

Cornwell said Friday’s low after midnight was 73 degrees. If Friday evening’s temperature were to remain above 68 degrees, that record will fall.

While the summer months in Maine are warm, this period of hot weather is accompanied by a mass of humid air that amplifies the heat and spreads a measure of misery. It prompted heat advisories both Thursday and Friday, urging people to avoid strenuous work during the heat of the day and to rest frequently, drink plenty of fluids, and to check on relatives and neighbors.

For Patrick, who with his partner Jess Roberts, bought the orchard on Brunswick Road last September from Larry Donahue and Mary Alioto and moved there in March, this year is when they start keeping records, learning the business and the cycles of their fruits.

Patrick grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin, where his family raised animals and grew hay to feed them, and has also worked for a landscaper for a number of years. So while he’s not a stranger to agriculture and working with plants and trees, this is a new venture.

He and Roberts were drawn to the orchard after living in Alaska for a number of years. When they wanted to move closer to Roberts’s family in Portland, they looked for a place that had both mountains and ocean, and Maine fit that bill.

“I understand how hard farming is, but I am learning a lot about the trees and the berries,” Patrick said. “There’s crossover, but a lot of it is brand new, whatever is next to completely from scratch.”

The orchard comes with apples — 58 varieties — as well as peach, plum, pear and cherry trees. It also has blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Patrick said the cherry crop is done for the year, and the yield was low. Because it’s been so dry, he said, the birds attacked the fruit, leaving barely enough to share, much less sell.

While the drought that has affected much of the state has eased along Maine’s coast, including all of Sagadahoc County, Patrick said he expects to see the impact on his fruit trees for a while.

“Next year’s fruit is happening right now,” he said. “Trees are putting buds on. So it makes sense to me that two years of stressors, that carries over.”

Some apple trees are biennial bearers, meaning that they have heavy crops one year and lighter or no crops the next, so it will take another year to know which those are.

Patrick said this year’s weather has meant his crops have been all about two weeks early. Some of the apples he grows generally ripen in early August; those were ready in mid-July. He tried another variety and decided it was ready to pick, but when they went out a day or so later, they had all fallen.

“Some of those that fell, I cut them open just to see what’s happening. Quite a few of them had only half-ripe seeds,” he said. ” I assume they dropped from stress. But I don’t know enough yet.”

In addition to the fruits, the farm store, open Friday through Monday, also carries honey from Glacier Farm in Dresden, produce from Third Bay Harvest Co. and goat milk soaps from Rock Bottom Farm, both from Richmond.

As Patrick and Roberts learn the business, they have their eye on a longer term goal, to be the place where people can stop on the way home for local produce and a bottle of wine or some local beer, and maybe some other locally produced foods.

Cornwell said Saturday is expected to start out warm, but a cold front moving through will bring the promise of scattered showers and storms and relief from the humidity that’s been amplifying the effect of the hot temperatures. Sunday and the start of next week promise to be warm, but drier.

“Sunday will be a great relief because the high is going to be about 80,” Patrick said and the temperature Saturday night will drop closer to 60 degrees.

The Climate Prediction Center’s 8-10 day outlook shows weather that’s drier and warmer than normal.

“Whether or not we have another large moist air mass move through will need to be tracked as we get closer,” Cornwell said.

In the meantime, Patrick said, he’s looking forward to pressing cider in the fall, blending from the 58 varieties.

“We’re trying to go slow, so we don’t have to backpedal,” he said.


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