Northwest NEWS

September 6, 1999

Front Page

Hailstorm damages Northshore crops and homes

crop damage hail man
The hail storm last week stripped the corn stalks at Root Connection of their leaves.
Staff photo by Marshall Haley.
Pam Trefethen had enough hail on her deck in Bothell to build a snow (hail?) man.
Photo by Swend Trefethen.
by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--The Root Connection, an organic farm co-op on the Woodinville-Redmond border off SR-202, lost a good portion of their summer crop to hail damage last Monday evening, Aug. 30. Their lettuce, spinach, corn, flowers, and pole bean crops were hardest hit. All leafy vegetables outside their greenhouses, including cale and broccoli, were reduced to mostly stalks with a few shredded leaves. Squash and pumpkins suffered numerous dents and scrapes.

   Owner Claire Thomas was hopeful that the corn might still germinate, although her son, Jeff Schmidt, wasn't as optimistic. He and his wife, Lisa, and their four children and Thomas' sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Stan Bates, all work the family farm. They also get help from co-op members who work for a share of the crop.

   "About the only upside to the bad weather this summer is that not all our corn tassles had fully developed yet," said Thomas.

   "It's too early to tell how it might bounce back," said Schmidt. "All the tassles that were sticking out were stripped off the stocks and the leaves were shredded and turned down by the hail, instead of sticking up. The corn ears are germinated when the tassles fall onto the leaves and drop seeds on the silk at the top of the ears. Unless every silk strand gets seeds on it, the ear can't properly germinate and you get 'holes' where kernels don't grow on the ear."

   The Fred Zante farm also suffered extensive damage to lettuce, spinach, flowers, and zucchini crops, but their corn was not nearly as damaged as the Root Connection's.

   Egon Molbak estimated damage at his nursery will probably exceed $75,000. "We're busy with a major cleanup, removing the shredded leaves, especially from the cale and cabbages, to prevent disease. I've never seen a storm like that around here since I came in 1948," he said.

   Schmidt said most of their lettuce was smashed by the more than one inch of hail that covered their protective plastic netting. They had planned to harvest one large patch of lettuce on Wednesday. They harvested their full grown carrots on Tuesday morning.

   "They were ready to harvest, but we had to fork them all out, because their tops were too broken by the hail to pull them out of the ground," said Schmidt.

   "About the only leafy plants that will survive will be the lettuce and spinach we just planted, whose leaves weren't developed enough to get smashed," said Thomas. "We have another batch still in the greenhouse, ready to plant, but that leaves a 3-4 week gap in our production cycle."

   "We have enough produce to feed our members for about a week," said Schmidt. "Members will buy some of the food too beat up to sell to the public. All the underground crops, like beets, were undamaged. In a normal summer, this would be our peak selling time and we would have already harvested a lot of the produce that was destroyed."

   Piles of hail were still on the ground Tuesday morning, wrapped up in the netting that the family frantically pulled off the many rows of leafy vegetables, after the hail stopped.

   "I was picking up the big balls of hail and smashing them on the ground, I was so mad at it," said seven-year-old Jeffrey Schmidt, Jr. "I planted most of the lettuce." He said his folks let him and his siblings plant the small lettuce starts, because they're closer to the ground than the adults.

   "I wouldn't be surprised if Jeffrey takes this place over someday," said his mom, Lisa. "He's so into taking care of this place. He loves it out here."

   Lisa and a friend tried to herd five horses into the barn during the worst of the storm, but they were at the river end of the farm and were so confused by the hail, they wouldn't run all the way to the barn, said Jeff Schmidt. The friend only had a T-shirt on and suffered multiple bruises on his arms and scratches on his neck from the hail, Schmidt said.

   Salesman Swend Trefethen reported one and a half-inch hailstones at his home at the north end of the Kingsgate area.

   "Every leaf was stripped from our three fruit trees, 20 rhubarb plants, 10 geraniums, and a grape vine," said Trefethen. "We have 10 rows of corn, eight feet tall; all the leaves are shredded and hanging down, but at least the corn is already ripe. The molded plastic sections of our deck cover were shattered into little pieces all over our deck. Visibility was less than 150 feet."

   Driving west to work on SR-522 at 2:30 Tuesday morning, a truck driver, who is an east Woodinville resident, said he was sure he was hallucinating when he saw several feet of snow piled alongside the freeway at the intersection of SR-522 and I-405.