Mid-Columbia crops may be weathering the heat this July better than some people.
Farmers and industry officials are predicting high-quality fruit coming off vines and trees in the coming weeks and months, with only some minor issues caused by repeated days of 100-plus degree temperatures.
Sunburn, caused by sunshine and high temperatures, has caused some concern, but so far sunburn has not been much beyond the norm, officials said.
Bellinger Farms of Hermiston had to work faster than anticipated to get some of its watermelons out of the field, said Jack Bellinger.
The farm has been growing Hermiston melons since 1941, and this year they ripened about two weeks earlier than usual because of warm weather, Bellinger said. Harvest started about July 4 and will continue at least through the Labor Day weekend.
Melons in just a couple of fields have had trouble with sunburn, which causes faded spots that make the melons unmarketable, he said. But overall the sugar content has been very good and he's pleased with the taste and quality of this year's melons, he said.
A warm and early spring put many fruit crops ahead of schedule this year.
Cherries were ready to pick the earliest on record, said James Michael of the Washington State Fruit Commission.
The warm spring also was expected to put other stone fruits ahead of schedule. But the hot weather has slowed that down, and predictions are now that they will be only a couple of days ahead of schedule.
Development and growth can be slowed if temperatures get too high, with plants and trees shutting down during the heat of the day.
But high heat at night can help speed development, said Michelle Moyer, viticulturist at the Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.
The northern latitude of Washington orchards is part of what makes their fruit so good, allowing more sunlight in the morning and evenings when temperatures are not so hot, said James Michael of the Washington State Fruit Commission.
"We're seeing really great eating quality" so far this harvest, he said.
The apricot harvest is just finishing up and some early varieties of peaches are being picked, although the peach harvest has yet to ramp up to full production. Nectarines should start to be picked any day, he said.
In a few weeks, plums and Italian prunes also should start to come off the trees.
Todd Fryhover of the Washington State Apple Commission said there could be more sunburn than usual on apples this year.
Sunburned apples may not be picked, or if the sunburn is light the apples can be marketed but at a lower grade.
But that should be offset with a larger than expected crop this year, Fryhover said.
Apple trees follow a natural cycle of large and small crops, and a large crop is expected this year. In addition in the last five to 10 years new orchards have been planted and old apple orchards have been rejuvenated with far more trees per acre, increasing the production per acre, he said.
The heat could result in some apples being slightly smaller, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, he said.
The apple harvest should start with some of the earlier varieties, including galas and goldens, the second week of August.
Home gardeners may be having some problems because of the heat, according to Marianne Ophardt, a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension, who writes a column for the Herald.
Hot weather can lead to a poor fruit set on beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and melons, and fruits and vegetables also can be deformed because of incomplete pollination, according to Ophardt. Bee activity and cross-pollination slows when temperatures are higher than 100.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews