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Cold spell aside, optimism blooms for Pa. farms

Genaro c. Armas, Associated Press

In this Monday, May 13, 2013 photo, Laura Zaino, farm manager at Greenmoore Gardens farm in Port Matilda, Pa., surveys asparagus plants. Zaino worried about a cold snap overnight Tuesday during a spring that experts say has otherwise been absent of big problems for Pennsylvania farms.(AP Photo/Genaro C. Armas)

PORT MATILDA, Pa. (AP) -- The temporary dip in temperatures gave farmers in Pennsylvania a scare during a spring that experts have otherwise described as pleasantly devoid of big problems.

Most farmers aren't fans of deviations from the norm. Schedules are typically set by following patterns that follow long-term trends.

"Nothing you can do about it," Bill Lamont, a professor of vegetable crops at Penn State, said with a faint chuckle during a phone interview. "I can't (raise) the temperature."

On Monday, the National Weather Service issued freeze warnings or frost advisories for much of the state overnight. On Tuesday morning, Lamont set out to the school's horticulture farm in Rock Springs, outside State College, to check on the fledgling crops. The thermometer read 27 degrees.

He found apple trees were "touched up a little bit," which would lead to a little thinning. Some leaves on grape plants curled and may have been injured.

Lamont took part in a conference call later Tuesday with extension agents around the state who reiterated similar findings: Any damage appeared to be minor. There were strawberry growers who irrigated for frost protection, while some farmers covered corn.

But nothing apparently too serious, Lamont said, and certainly nothing close to the late-spring cold spell that doomed some plantings after warmer-than-normal temperatures early last spring.

"This is more average, and normally we get this type of cold event" once during the spring, Lamont said. "We get over this hump, we're usually pretty good."

There's no need to worry about that the rest of the week. Temperatures were expected to climb back into the upper 60s and low 70s.

After a warm, dry stretch, precipitation drenched parts of Pennsylvania last week, "which really helped crops as the rainfall was much needed," the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in its weekly crop and weather roundup for Pennsylvania.

Early corn was starting to emerge. "With the nice weather these past couple weeks, most fields have been plowed and many crops are being planted but there is still plenty of work to be done," the USDA report said.

Like at Greenmoore Gardens farm in Port Matilda, just outside State College. It bills itself as an organic, community-supported agriculture operation with about 150 customers.

The first pickup of the spring was Tuesday, so farm manager Laura Zaino and her employees were busily harvesting goodies like asparagus from outside fields, and lettuces from a field covered by a tunnel to fill customer boxes.

It's Zaino's first full season as manager, so she's still getting acclimated to the conditions at the farm. Situated on the south side of a mountain, the ground was frozen until the end of March, which delayed planting. That, in turn, pushed back the first spring pickups by a week.

So the cold temperatures early this week presented Zaino with an unexpected potential glitch at the last minute.

"Last year was early. We had a really late frozen ground and really late last frost (this year) specifically for this farm based on our field records in the past," she said Monday at the farm. "In conjunction with everything else and my beginner experience, when you put it all together we're probably two weeks behind for some things."

Pennsylvania's most familiar crop, perhaps, are apples. It might be a good year for them, judging by trees that bloomed in Rob Crassweller's orchard earlier this week.

Crassweller, a professor of tree fruit at Penn State, described his trees as looking like snowballs for their plethora of full, white blossoms. It's a sign of a potential bumper crop, Crassweller said Monday.

Most fruit trees are past bloom, the USDA reported, "and hopefully the colder temperatures do not damage the fruit trees or any of the other crops."