EAST PEORIA — Facebook, often the purveyor of bad news, certainly put a damper on a summer favorite for many area foodies this year.
A post came from Schaer’s Farm Market, announcing the East Peoria farm would not be opening its strawberry fields for picking this summer.
“The cold and wet spring weather damaged the strawberries more than we anticipated,” read the June 11 post. “We were hoping the nice sunny weather would turn them around but that was not the case.”
The heavy rains of 2019 have claimed another victim.
Bonnie Schaer and her husband, Larry, operate the market and farm. Bonnie Schaer said Wednesday a lack of consistent sunshine was likely to blame.
Add in the cooler than normal temperatures and higher than normal rainfall totals, and she hypothesized that any amount of sun wouldn’t have salvaged this year’s strawberry crop.
“It was almost the perfect storm of what not to do,” said Schaer.
According to the National Weather Service, precipitation totals in the Peoria area were 10.31 inches higher than average as of Thursday. July’s precipitation outlook predicts higher than average rainfall will continue.
The temperature outlook for July predicts that much of the state, including central Illinois, will encounter below normal temperatures.
Like many area farms this year, the weather forced Larry Schaer to improvise.
He uses Jiffypots to plant cantaloupes because the seeds are too expensive to plant directly into the ground, said Bonnie Schaer. This year, her husband was excited. “'Oh I’ve got a good head start, we’re going to have early cantaloupe,'” she said of his expectation. “He planted them and then the weather — the highs were 40 degrees and cloudy.”
Due to the conditions, the seeds didn’t germinate, and Larry Schaer was forced to stray from his plan. He built a makeshift greenhouse with a couple of heat lamps inside. Finally, said Bonnie Schaer, the cantaloupe seeds began to germinate.
“So now we’re three weeks late,” she said.
Schaer said despite the delay, the farm is starting to produce yields of zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes.
She is hopeful that as the summer potentially gets hotter and more humid — ideal growing conditions for the cantaloupes and watermelons — the market won’t have any additional setbacks.
“Everything is just going to be late, but we should have everything,” she said. “Once again, Mother Nature has the final say in all of this.”