It’s been a tough year for the area’s vegetable gardeners. Last fall, Harvey pushed salty water over many gardens, and an unusually deep freeze threatened even more in Galveston County.
The bigger the garden, the bigger the risks, and many fans of fresh produce have kept their fingers crossed that you-pick-it farm Fruits ‘N Such Orchards would survive the year’s setbacks. With 10 acres under cultivation and a flock of steady customers who come to walk the planted rows instead of the aisles of the supermarket, a lot is riding on the weather. Fortunately, most of their farm is ready for a busy summer season of picking blackberries, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, peaches, tomatoes and other fresh produce.
“Our fields were underwater during Harvey, but not our house,” Renee Hillman, co-owner of Fruits ‘N Such, said. “The ground was so saturated that 34 of our peach trees fell over. We were able to straighten most of them back up, and it should be a good year for our peaches, because peaches need some cold weather.”
Not everything benefited from the cold snap, though. “We lost a lot in the freeze. Everybody’s yard is suffering,” Hillman said. “Our lime trees and avocados are gone.”
Blueberry and blackberry bushes survived, and on a recent visit, juicy ripe blackberries studded the vines. Hillman found the quantity of berries to be less than previous years, but the quality was still the same. “It’s hard to say if it was the flood or the freeze, but the berries have been a little sparse and not as thick as usual,” she said. Still, there were ample berries for picking, and it didn’t take long to fill a bucket with enough berries for several pies or cobblers.
Customers bring their own buckets or bags, pick the produce they want from the vines and trees, and pay by the pound. Hillman and her husband, Wilson, check the crops daily and update their list of what is ready to pick on Facebook posts and their answering machine.
Like all farmers, the Hillmans constantly track the weather. “Tomatoes are coming in, but if the temperature is over 90 degrees at night, tomatoes can’t set their fruit,” Hillman explained. “We’d already had a double whammy from Harvey and the freeze, and now we’re looking at some exceptionally hot weather, so it’s been a very unusual year.”
To Hillman, the most concerning impact of Harvey is its affect on the area’s bee colonies. “A lot of people lost their beehives, because they’re low to the ground and were flooded,” she noted. “If there aren’t enough bees to pollinate the plants, they won’t produce.”
Despite the year’s challenges, Hillman still enjoys tending the garden she started in 2004 and greeting old and new customers, school groups and families who come to buy produce that couldn’t be fresher. She still has her favorites in the orchard. “My favorite is the pluot. It’s a cross between a plum and an apricot,” she explained.
Her affinity for pluots may also stem from sharing a trait with them. “They’ve rebounded really well this year,” she said.