Oh, the changes we can see in a week — not to mention in a year. Last week, you might remember, it was a dustbowl here. Today, it is lightly drizzling and the ground is damp enough to make the soil stick to your boots. Last year on this date, it was 95 degrees. We haven’t seen it above 80 in over a week now and we’ll be lucky to hit 70 today.
October is one of the most variable months of the year for weather in Northern California — both from year to year, and week to week. This can make growing vegetables especially challenging. It can be too hot and dry for our “wet season” crops but also too cold and wet for our summer ones — all in the same month.
For two weeks now, the temperatures have been conducive to leafy greens, broccoli and our other fall and winter crops. But they had still been struggling with PTSD from the extreme heat we saw the last week of September. They have finally begun to recover, and a few days of rain would be exactly what the doctor ordered.
With rain in the forecast for over a week now, our “to-do” list wrote itself. First task: finish harvesting crops like Table Grapes, Walnuts and Winter Squash that don’t like getting wet. Those tasks were all completed by the end of the day yesterday.
The next task was wrapping up our fall planting. The timing of this particular rain made that a challenge. We have scheduled plantings right up to Halloween, so we had to push a few of those up, and scratch others off the list. One of our biggest late October tasks is planting garlic. We made substantial progress on that in the last two days, and we’ll just have to hope for a dry spell in the near future to finish up.
The last thing most folks are thinking about after two years of drought is flooding. But we’ve seen October storms in the past that knocked trees down and drowned crops because we weren’t prepared for them. So this week I added “flood prep” to the list of tasks. We cleaned two-years worth of dry weeds out of ditches and culverts — a task that is much harder to do in the pouring rain.
We also stopped irrigating on Monday to let the ground dry out a little so it can soak up more rain. This marks a break from the last two years, when we’ve barely turned the water off for more than a few days. I used to take pride in growing winter crops almost entirely without irrigation, but the drought has made that impossible.
A nice storm this week would also allow us to plant a cover crop in the dozens of acres of fields we’ve currently got fallowed. The ground is so dry that there’s no way we could grow a winter cover crop with irrigation alone. Cover cropping is one of the foundations of our soil building strategy at Terra Firma, but we need rain to make it viable.
Come to think of it, we need rain to make all the activities in our state viable.