As lower Kenai Peninsula temperatures have soared recently, local farmers and gardeners have concerns about how June’s lack of rain and steady warm temperatures will affect their businesses in the weeks ahead.
Last weekend, hundreds of shoppers visited the Homer Farmers Market, many wearing sun-dresses and shorts beneath the bright sky, which was filled with smoke from fires to the north. Though the vendors featured a variety of flowers, food and herbs, some growers worried about the effect of the weather on their livelihood.
“If it doesn’t rain again, we are going to be in trouble. Outside (the high tunnel), we may lose everything,” said Kelly Hickman, who farms off-grid with her family in Nikolaevsk.
Temperatures this June have been consistently in the 60s and, according to U.S. Climate Data, Homer received only 0.16 inches of rain in June of 2019, compared to a measured 2.53 inches of rain in June of 2018.
“I’ll push it and say ‘oh, we are going to get rain in a week,’ and I won’t water as much. But, that’s a mistake,” said Colleen Powers at Arctic Rose Herbs, who relies on a rainwater catchment system for her greenhouse and one acre dedicated to herbs, flowers and berries.
Powers says she can collect about 2,800 gallons of water, and historically doesn’t have to buy any. In recent years though, Powers said she has had to order about one to three deliveries of about 1,000 gallons each from Moore and Moore, a local water provider. The price of a water delivery in Homer varies depending on where people live and delivery schedules. For delivery on a normal schedule to Fritz Creek, 2,500 gallons would be about $170.
At the market, Powers pointed out an unusual discoloration in certain crops, and how some leaves were already dry and quickly falling to the ground. She said she believes this is due to using purchased water that has been treated with chlorine instead of pure rainwater.
Darius Kleine, owner of Fritz Creek Fungi, also said that water is becoming a concern for him. Kleine, who has been on his property for 20 years, has watched as the spring-fed creek that he relies on turns dry each summer. This has become a trend over the past three years, and this year it’s happening earlier than last. Soon, he said, they might need to start buying water.
June’s consistent heat is also causing plants to produce ahead of schedule. In Homer’s unique growing climate in which everything usually happens relatively quickly, this year growers are commenting that crops are coming even faster.
“Watering is our number one priority right now,” said Madra Choromanska at Alaska Stems, a flower farm and design studio located in Homer. “With flowers, the sunnier it is, the faster they are blooming. We are so behind on general farm work like weeding, because we just need to get the flowers out right now.”
Michelle Hatten at Stone Circle Peonies in Fritz Creek echoed Choromanska’s experience, reporting that this is her sixth year of growing peonies and her flowers are two weeks ahead of schedule.
The rapid rate of growth this year will mean that Alaska peony farmers will need to hold onto their flowers longer before they can sell them. In having peonies ready in June, Alaska is now overlapping with the Dutch and Danish schedule, Hatten said. Alaska is known for being the only producer in the world of peonies in the month of July, providing desirable flowers during the peak of wedding season when no other region can.
Greeted with the ever-stunning views of Kachemak Bay and its changing tides, visitors descending into Homer for the holiday weekend might never imagine that water might be a concern for locals. And, as local farmers watch the weather report, not a spot of rain sits on the radar.
Sydney Leto is a farmer and freelance writer living in Homer.