We’re having our first fall weather here at Terra Firma, or as I like to call it, “Fauxll”. Late August often brings us a respite from the intense heat of summer, but it almost always returns in September — sometimes with a vengeance.
We are taking advantage of the nice weather to plant our 2021-22 strawberry crop. Strawberries are planted as “crowns”, a mass of roots with just one or two leafs still attached. The crowns are plants that are field-grown for one year in the ground and then dug with machines. They are kept just above freezing for several months to “vernalize” the plant, or trick it into believing it has gone through a second winter. This increases the production of flowers and fruit.
Our strawberry field will grow through the fall, the plants roughly quadrupling in size before going dormant for a few months and then starting to produce fruit in late March. If it stays warm and dry long enough in the fall, we may get a small crop of berries in October.
But with the historic drought and ongoing fires, a warm and dry fall is the last thing anyone should be wishing for. October rain is never a given in Northern California, but it’s not a rare occurrence either. The last time we had a wet October was several years ago, and it would be nice to think that we are “due” for one. Unfortunately that’s not how the weather works.
But it’s also a case of “be careful what you wish for”. October is a very busy planting month for us, so big storms like the one that hit in 2016 can throw a major wrench into our gears. The timing is particularly critical because if the fields take too long to dry out, we can miss the opportunity to plant important crops. By mid-November it is “too late” to plant most vegetables due to the rapidly shortening days and (normally) colder temperatures.
One October rainstorm dumped two and a half inches of rain accompanied by 50 mph winds that knocked down hundreds of two-year old peach trees on the farm. That same storm, coming during walnut harvest, flooded our neighbor’s walnut orchard and washed most of his crop into one of our fields — which was thankfully not planted at the time. After sitting in a huge puddle for several days, those nuts were a complete loss.
As we move into September, you’ll start to see the contents of your boxes very gradually shifting away from summer crops to fall ones. The first items you’ll see will be Green Beans and Delicata squash, followed a little later by our first Spinach and Kale.  Hot weather doesn’t do these crops any good, and it certainly won’t help with the drought or the fires. We’re really hoping for some nice weather and maybe just a little rain for the next few months.