Gardeners urged to act ahead of Hurricane Irene
Orono — Hurricane Specialist Stacy Stewart Sr. with the National Hurricane Center said that Hurricane Irene is "forecast to become a larger than average hurricane." This means its wind field, both of tropical storm-force and hurricane-force winds, will cover a large area. East of the storm's eye is where the strongest winds will be, according to the National Hurricane Center.
And with so much wind, UMaine Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist Mark Hutton said gardeners should be thinking about harvesting tomatoes that are starting to show color, peppers that are of an adequate size and green beans that are ready for picking.
"Chances are, things that are hanging will get blown around a lot and plants will get damaged," said Hutton. "If crops get knocked to the ground, and we get a lot of rain, there will be food safety concerns with standing water and runoff and rot will set in before you get to collect the items off the ground."
Hutton said likely crops ripening in gardens, besides tomatoes, peppers and beans, include beets, spinach, lettuce, melons and cucumbers. Melons, he said, should stay in the field. They won't ripen further after they are picked and they will withstand the storm's winds and rains, as long as they aren't in danger of being slogged by tainted rain water runoff.
"If flooding could happen from a creek, or there is standing water in a nearby area where there is a lot of pet traffic, dog or cat waste, then it might be good to put some ditching around to drain water away from the garden so things won't be waterlogged," said Hutton.
Hutton said that crops coming into contact with the soil increases the potential spread of pathogens.
"It's a judgment call, and generally, it's better to err on the side of being safe," said Hutton.
For plants that have more growing and harvesting potential, Hutton said waterlogged soil could keep them from thriving or kill them.
In addition to harvesting food ahead of the storm, Hutton recommended staking and reinforcing stakes and cages around plants in the garden.
"Pepper plants aren't normally staked, but you might want to stake them and give them some support so they don't get blown over and damaged this time of year," said Hutton.
How much rain and wind the state will get remains an unknown at time, but forecasters are predicting at least five inches of rain and winds of at least 40 mph, with higher gusts, especially along the coast.
Large portions of the Northeast may see power outages and downed trees, and the severity of the storm will be dictated by Irene's exact path and intensity, which remain uncertain as of Thursday at noon. Current models show winds of 65 mph across Maine Monday morning.
Many parts of the Northeast, including all of coastal Maine, are very vulnerable to storm surges and coastal flooding threats.
No matter how the storm ultimately tracks, there's still plenty of time to prepare home and garden before the wind and rain picks up.