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Fair-weather fans still waiting for spring to warm up in Western Pennsylvania

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 12:09 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
John Kubrick, owner of Kubrick Brothers Garden Center and Landscaping, arranges the last of his remaining annuals outside the Plum business on Friday, April 26, 2013. He will get major shipments of the plants next week in anticipation of warmer weather and customer demand.

Temperatures this spring have been on a pendulum — balmy and sunny or feeling much too cold.

Indeed, gardeners, farmers and cool-treats retailers alike say they're waiting for that Goldilocks spring weather that's just right for crops and sales.

“Vegetables and most of the herbs are ready in the greenhouse; we just can't bring them out yet,” said John Kubrick, manager of Kubrick Brothers Garden Center in Plum. “People are itching for them.”

The good news is that the last chance for a hard frost likely is behind us, said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon. The weather service issued a frost advisory for Thursday night, but warmer weather was in the forecast for the following days.

“I'm really hoping Mother Nature doesn't make me a liar,” he said. “This time of year, our normals should be highs around 65 and lows around 43.”

It seemed the winter lingered because of chilly temperatures — and 4 inches of snow that fell on March 25.

But the winter was fairly typical for Western Pennsylvania, with average temperatures in the mid-20s to mid-30s, according to the National Weather Service.

Snowfall, however, was more than 15 inches above normal, at 57.4 inches this season.

“We're really slow getting into spring, but in the last 10 days we've been doing much better at it,” Hendricks said.

This month, temperatures have warmed up to the norm of 50 degrees.

That's compared to March 2012, when the area had 11 days with temperatures in the 70s or higher.

Farmers say this spring's weather is much better for crops.

Last year's warm temperatures resulted in fruit trees budding early and sensitive crops springing up faster.

Many were badly damaged by hard frosts last April.

“We'd rather have it like this and it warms up slowly,” said Hil Schramm, an owner of Schramm Farm & Orchards in Penn Township, Westmoreland County. “Last year was abnormal. Everything was four weeks ahead, and that was not good.”

He said spring planting and fruit tree blooms are on schedule.

“It's a little chilly, so it's holding back the asparagus some,” Schramm said, “But it's going to warm up, so, by the first of May, it will be just about on time.”

The general rule of the thumb is to wait until May 20 to sow late summer and fall harvest plants that could be hurt by frost, according to Reed Soergel, an owner of Soergel Orchards, which has farms in Prospect and Franklin Park.

“We're not way behind,” he said. “It's not like we're in the second or third week of May and it's all rain, and we can't ‘get in the ground.' ”

Harvest Valley Farms in Middlesex lost half of its early sweet corn crop to last year's April frost, said Art King, who co-owns the farm with his father and son.

“We were already committed to planting it later this year,” he said. They planted sweet corn on April 4, several weeks later than 2012. “It's up and growing and looking very nice.”

The farm traditionally uses raised beds and a heavy blanket-like field cover that retains heat. It protects the crops to within five degrees of freezing, King said.

“So, even though March felt like winter, I think we're still going to be on track to have early sweet corn by the Fourth of July,” he said.

Local farmers said pear, plum and peach trees are in bloom right now and the apple trees aren't far behind. They said they don't anticipate any damaging frost.

Better fruit crops benefit ice cream stands that use real fruit in their desserts.

“If you don't have a good season of fruit, then you can't make that flavor as often,” said Kathy Kusenko, owner of Speedy's Tasty Treats on Route 66 in Manor Township. The business uses cantaloupe, blueberries and peaches in its soft-serve ice cream, she said.

Speedy's opened on March 15 and, overall, business has been down this spring compared to last, she said.

“It's definitely slower when it's cooler out, but business has been steady,” Kusenko said.

The same is true for Rita's Italian Ice in Fox Chapel, which opened on March 9.

“I think people are itching to get out,” said manager Sean Griffith. “We have our diehards, and we were closed all winter. So they come no matter what.”

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