TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Jay Proost walked to a row of Fast Vantage cabbages and plucked a tightly formed, light-green head from the dirt.
This summer has been a good year for cabbage — and pretty much all things in the Proost Family Farm and other gardens across the Magic Valley.
In Proost's huge garden, watermelons were growing firm and round while an already prolific green bean crop was tilled to sleep by a tractor, to hibernate until next year. As the afternoon sky hung heavy with smoke from nearby fires, it masked the rain clouds that suddenly began to pockmark the soft soil with droplets.
Proost said the last two summers were tougher growing seasons.
"We are above normal. The quality is excellent, and we've haven't had any insects," Proost said.
There was such an abundance this year that the farm will soon open a third stand on Pole Line Road to sell its vegetable and fruits, in addition to its stands on Addison Avenue and at the intersection of Falls Avenue and Blue Lakes Boulevard North.
He attributes a lot of that to the hot weather.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July was the nation's hottest month on record since 1936. The NOAA said the July temperatures contributed to a record-warm first seven months of the year. In fact, this is the warmest 12-month period the U.S. has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.
Steve Hines, University of Idaho extension educator for Jerome County, has seen the effects the hot temperatures have had on corn this summer. If corn is not well watered when it gets hot, Hines said, heat stress will cause ears to grow smaller in diameter.
"It does well in 85 to 90 degrees, but anything over 90 degrees gets harder," Hines said.
Hines usually fields calls regarding large crops, but because the horticulture agent recently retired, Hines has been fielding a number of calls regarding gardens. One insect that Hines said is causing problems is mosquito, but otherwise this year is pretty quiet regarding insects.
"I did fairly well," said Don Friel, owner of D and L Produce and manager at the Gooding Farmers Market. "What I did grow, did well."
Friel said this summer it was all about beans. For the first time this year, Friel's bean plants grew to a height of 8.5 feet, and beans are still abundant as other crops start to fade.
"Most of our stuff is peaking out. Peas are gone, carrots are gone," Friel said.
Friel said the secret to this year's plentiful harvest was keeping his garden well-watered.
As his various tomatoes — Roma, Big Boys and Beefmasters — ripen, Friel keeps an eye on soil moisture and cutworms. Because Friel does not use pesticides or herbicides, he picks these critters from his plants by hand. Earlier in the season, cutworms were eating the roots of plants, killing them. But these little nuisances have subsided.
In years past, Friel said, grasshoppers were problems until a "friendly bird" swooped in and made a quick meal
"This has been our best year," Friel said.
This summer, veggies outsold hanging flower baskets at Moss Greenhouses in Jerome.
Salesman Tom Ordaz said a popular seller was garden collections that helped customers grow their own ingredient kits for salsa, spaghetti sauce or garden salad. The kits were popular because they are patio friendly and ready to go, he said. For example, a spaghetti kit would include potted plants of oregano, basil and chives.
"I think that's the biggest thing is to have it fresh," Ordaz said.
Ordaz credited the warm spring for early vegetable sales and the hot summer, with some bouts of cool, for keeping vegetables the most purchased plants at the store.
Crops are ripening slowly but steadily in Carl Hatfield's garden.
His tomatoes were battered by spring winds but are starting to ripen now. Also picking up pace are his peppers and eggplants. The cucumbers, however, were already racing, Hatfield said.
Aphids have been giving Hatfield's garden problems, but he said this is the case every year. What Hatfield hasn't seen is the squash bug, which gave him trouble in the past.
Christi Falen, University of Idaho extension educator, said she received calls that there were ants in some gardens and aphids in barley crops. In Falen's home garden, she said, tomatoes and cucumbers are almost ready to be picked. Falen said her chickens have done a good job at insect control.
In Leon Overton's garden, tomatoes are doing fantastic. He said his Celebrity tomatoes are 25 percent bigger than in past years.
Though he isn't quick to say this is his best growing season to date, he said his wife believes it is.
"It's kind of been a different year, but I say that every year," Overton said.
Also ripening nicely in his garden are sweet corn, peppers, squash and pickling cucumbers. The sweet corn is a little late, by two weeks, and he credits that to the heat.
Earlier in the year, the wind beat up some of Overton's plants, but he said that weather is normal in Idaho. And soon his battered plants were back at it, producing fruits and veggies.
Last year, he said, the Colorado potato beetle destroyed his potato crop. This year bugs were not a problem.
"So far it's been pretty good," Overton said.
Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com