Fifty years before Terra Firma came into existence, George Hemenway tended dozens and dozens of acres of fruit trees and vegetables on much of the land we currently farm. He kept a handwritten daily dairy of his work on the farm, the weather, the crops and other basic but sometimes critical historical records that helped him make decisions each year. Before he died in 2003, he would let me sit in his living room and peruse the diaries — the only written history of a place too small to merit mention elsewhere.
From the start, Terra Firma has kept a much simpler log: a notebook listing the crops we’ve planted, where and when. (And we’ve done this newsletter from the start in 1995). In the late 90s, that notebook became a spreadsheet, and in 2007 that spreadsheet moved onto the Cloud. making it much easier to access the historical records.
In years like this one, I find myself wishing I had a regular farm diary. Someplace to make note of the amazing things we’ve seen this winter, like fields entirely underwater for the first time since we’ve been farming them.
Instead, we have some pretty detailed information going back ten years about what we grew and how the weather affected it. We already know from public weather data that this winter is historical by California standards, setting multiple records for “wettest month ever” in January, as well as “wettest year to date”.
But rainfall totals don’t show the micro picture. And on our farm, it’s not so important how much rain falls in a given week or month, but whether or not it stops raining for long enough for us to get things done: weeding and planting being the two most critical activities.
Since 2007, we have not had a winter that was this consistently wet. As of today, we have not planted anything on the farm for two entire months. And given the current forecast, it is extremely unlikely that we will be able to do so for at least another two weeks.
The good news is that January and February are not critical months for planting. However, we do normally get enough dry weather during this time to prepare fields for planting later — in March and April. This has been really important in past wet years. If the weekly rains continue into the spring, we will have limited windows of opportunity to plant. So we need fields that are almost ready. And right now we don’t have any.
From George’s invaluable diaries I learned that dramatic weather swings have been the norm in this part of California since long before I was born. And even our own, more recent records show the transition from multi-year periods of wet to extended periods of drought. And now, perhaps, back to wet.
We need a dry March. Statistically speaking, there’s a pretty good chance it will happen. But 2017 has already demonstrated its prowess at defying statistical norms. It’s an overachiever. Let’s hope it peaks early and fades out soon. We don’t need to set any records this year.