It can be hard to stay positive in our world today, and it’s hard to escape the bad news even if you try. When you’re writing a weekly newsletter like this one, the “experts” will tell you to make sure to keep it positive and upbeat. Joining a CSA is a way for people to feel like they are helping make the world a better place, after all.
But I also known that Terra Firma subscribers are smart and aware folks who really care about what happens on our farm and in your boxes. And if we go from having an abundance of something like, say, strawberries in your boxes one week to almost none the next, you are going to want to know why.
Before I continue in that direction, though, I have some good news. Somehow, our first variety of peaches managed to survive not one but two hard freezes as well as a month of rainy weather to produce a relatively heavy crop of fruit. We started picking those peaches Monday. Which turned out to be great timing. Because we didn’t pick any strawberries that day, or yesterday, or today. That’s where the bad news comes in.
At the end of last week, we were in the middle of a bumper season for strawberries. A little too good, perhaps, as we were struggling to get all the berries picked. And as some subscribers have mentioned, the very large berries this year were not always as flavorful as they had been in the past. (As an aside: the varieties were the same ones we have always grown, but conditions this year — perhaps the late rains — somehow supersized them).
On Thursday of last week, a series of distant weather events caused the perfect conditions for a two-day windstorm that hit full-force on Friday around noon. The dry north wind blasted us for almost 48 hours straight with gusts that reached 50 mph.
The combination of the very strong, dry winds and temperatures in the 80s quickly dehydrates plants and starts to tear their leaves. It picks up dust from the dry ground and propels it through the air, sandblasting everything it touches and filling the air with dust. By Friday at noon in our fields, you could no longer see the readily-visible Coast Range just 3 miles away.
These types of very dry windstorms tend to hit the Sacramento Valley once or twice a year, but they can come at any time. In the winter the wind can be very cold, causing wind chills to drop below freezing. If they come during the summer or fall, as happened in Napa and Sonoma last year, they tend to turbocharge the heat. Because the storms tend to last for 2-3 days straight, plants get no relief from the beating.
In the past, we have lost numerous crops to the north wind. Tomatoes stripped of their flowers during pollination. Citrus freezer-burned. Kale and beet leaves shredded. Cucumber and melon plants ripped from the ground completely. One year the friction and heat of the wind whipping through our fully-grown tomato field melted the twine holding the plants off the ground.
This time around, the strawberries took the brunt of the damage. Plants bearing a heavy crop load are always more susceptible to dehydration and stress. The wind sucks the water out of them faster than they can pull it from the ground. The berry plants were wilting and droopy, and ended up loosing lots of leaves. This left the berries exposed to the sun and wind, which burned and bruised them.
While the wind was blowing, the fruit didn’t look that bad. But like a kid who forgets to put on sunscreen at the beach, windburned strawberries look much worse the next day. By Monday morning when we tried to harvest some fruit, we found that almost every ripe berry in the field was damaged. After easily getting two baskets for each CSA box last week, we were barely able to find enough for just the Large boxes today. (Note: we may have more berries by the time we pack the boxes for Friday delivery)
There are other silver linings to consider other than the arrival of the peaches. The wind did not kill the berry plants, and they are still fairly loaded with small green fruit that should ripen in the coming weeks — as long as we don’t get any more extreme weather. And other than some torn leaves, most of our other crops seem to have escaped major damage.
So there you have it. A newsletter that starts positive and ends positive, with the bad news tucked inside.