We started picking Satsuma Mandarins on Saturday, and with that, we have now fully settled into “winter mode” — a relatively calm period at Terra Firma where we harvest citrus, root crops, and leafy greens.
But it doesn’t feel like winter, especially not when it’s 85 degrees and sunny every afternoon as it has been for well over a week. And there’s no winter rains in the forecast.
It’s not time to panic yet and start worrying about a dry winter — November rains make up just a small part of our annual precipitation. Statistically, there is no correlation between rain in November and rain the rest of the winter. And last year we were dry right up until Thanksgiving, when the first soaking rain came.
The dry weather causes some problems for us on the farm. Irrigation is the biggest one. We have a significant percentage of our fields planted for the winter — fields we don’t normally have to water at all after mid-November thanks to the generally cool, damp weather here. But this year our pumps are still running daily and the irrigation crew still hard at work.
Even without wet weather, the crops don’t need nearly as much water this time of year given how much shorter and cooler the days are. The ground dries much more slowly. So if we get a field soaking wet with sprinklers only to get an inch or two of rain a week later, it makes harvesting difficult or impossible. It could also easily lead to flooding.
The other big issue is the cover crops that we rely on to protect our fields that aren’t planted with vegetables, as well as to build the soil and provide nutrients for next summer’s crops. We rarely irrigate the dozens of acres of fields where we grow the cover crops. We have planted the cover crops as early as Halloween if we got an early rain, and as late as just before Christmas in years when it was too wet in November. But before Thanksgiving is the optimal time.
Last year Turkey Day was on Nov. 21, but there is little chance of a storm arriving by that date this year. The holiday is a week later this year — practically in December — so we can still hope for some moisture then. I have no memory of a year when the ground was still bone dry on the first of December, even during the drought.
I apologize if my yearning for a wet Thanksgiving runs counter to any plans you might have for that week. Ideally, we would get a nice soaking rain the day before, or after. But if like me, you are concerned about the lack of rainfall so far this fall, you may want to make plans to spend the day outdoors. Just make sure to have a backup plan just in case you get rained out.