February is a sleepy month on most farms, even at Terra Firma. The cold, wet weather of December and January has taken a toll on our winter vegetables, slow down harvest. And the orchards and other permanent crops are still dormant. We work shorter days and shorter weeks — sometimes just four days. And there is plenty of time for all the office work involved in farming: crop planning, ordering seeds, and dealing with the reams of paperwork that pile up the rest of the year.
But there is no February this year. Welcome to Februly, 2018: warm, dry and sunny. We’ve traded rubber boots and rain slickers for T-shirts and tennis shoes, better to try to keep up with the pace of plants that have decided that spring is here and it’s time to grow.
The only rain we’ve had at Terra Firma this month is coming out of the sprinklers, thanks to the pumps that we fired up on Monday — after a much-too-short “irrigation vacation”. Last year we went four full months without watering any crops. This year it’s been just six weeks.
Most winters we have a fairly small field crew compared to the rest of the year, which is appropriate to the amount of work we have to do. Right now, though, we are struggling to keep up with crops like broccoli. Instead of harvesting it once or twice a week, it needs to get picked every other day. We are all a little grumpy at how much we are working; after all, things are not likely to slow down much from here on out.
Absent a monster storm at the end of the month, the weather forecast for the rest of Februly offers little chance of getting back to normal rainfall. We are in the running for driest winter ever, and there’s no trophy that comes with that award — especially since we are just one year out of drought in Northern California.
Our local reservoir Lake Berryessa is still very full, as are most of the others in Norcal. But irrigation season will likely start very early this year for everyone, and we’ll use up that surplus in a hurry. The same will likely happen with groundwater, which recovered dramatically last year. We’ve only had one big storm of the kind that cause runoff and flooding that fills the water table.
The funny thing about drought is that most people like or even love it. Rain — not to mention snow — makes most people sad and causes them inconveniences they would rather avoid. But if it stops raining completely, for a long time, no one is happy. Look at the situation in Cape Town, South Africa, where a large modern city has effectively run out of water.
Fruit and vegetables are a lot like people. They like warm weather and sunshine. But they eventually need rain.