One of the wettest on record, the spring of 2010 has created some unique challenges for many of our farmers. We already know that the height of tomato season is estimated to hit later than usual and so we’ve pushed back our Annual Tomato Dinners to September. We were curious about other ways in which the rain has effected spring crops and planting schedules so we queried our farmers last week to find out. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Welling Tom, Brookside Farm: The unusually persistent rains in February and March were the most problematic. Most of our spring and summer vegetable crops need to be planted around that time, and our soil remained too wet for decent tilth. Our spring crops (such as sugar snap peas or spinach) were planted in lumpy soil and in greatly reduced volume, and were thus compromised in yield. Only those crops which were actually planted in the fall (such as broccoli, chards, kale, fava beans and garlic–which is a spring crop as green garlic and garlic scapes), or crops like arugula (which doesn’t require fine tilth) produced much. We had to wait until the middle of April to begin planting our tomatoes in the field.
For our summer tree fruits, it’s been hit-or-miss. When the trees were in bloom, the bees didn’t fly around to pollinate them if the rain was actually falling or even if the skies were just too overcast (the reason why beekeepers use smoke to sedate the bees before opening up a hive), so those fruit varieties whose blossoms came and went during constant rain (such as the Flavor Supreme pluots and Robada apricots) have failed to produce much fruit. But if the blossoms did catch a few sunny days (as did the cherries, Blenheim apricots, Flavor King and Flavor Queen pluots, and Asian pears) then they did get pollination, and we will have some fruit, although not as much as in a normal year.
The unusually cool weather of the past couple weeks is slowing down the growth of our summer vegetable crops and the ripening of the cherries.
Brookside Farms can be found at the Montclair Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
Scott Mathieson, Laguna Farm: It is interesting how most people think all farmers love rain. If your crops are dependent on the rain for all its needs, such as in the Midwest grain belt, these would be ideal conditions. Here on the west coast, we tend to almost count on the six month drought common for California. For this farmer in Sonoma county, the heavy rains represent delays in soil preparations contrasted by savings in irrigation costs. Luckily we have a diversity of soils; from sandy well-drained soils that allow us to farm through the winter, to rich bottom lands that have a narrow band of moisture conditions to work it into plantable seed beds.
Every year is different. The last two have been marked by very low rainfall in high contrast to the above-average rainfall of this year. The key is diversity of crops and strategies. Yes, we are effected by this weather and are behind as far as field preparation and crops coming along.
Laguna Farm can be found at the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays, the Petaluma Farmers’ Market on on Saturdays, and the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
Paul Underhill, Terra Firma Farm: This year’s cool spring has basically erased the temperature differential between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Most gardeners in the Bay know that their tomatoes don’t ripen until August or September, and the longer it stays cool and wet here, the more likely we are to be in the same situation.
Our summer crops are running anywhere from two weeks (zucchini) to possibly two months (melons) late, with our famous tomatoes probably somewhere in between.
We are also having more problems with fungal diseases that we don’t usually experience.
On the plus side, the cool season crops we grow in the spring each year have been enjoying the weather and we expect to have an extended harvest of spring greens, peas, strawberries, etc.
Terra Firma Farm can be found at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Thursdays.