Terra Firma Farm Founder Paul Holmes had three simple words to describe farming here: “Feast or Famine”. Those three words were the first to come to mind on Sunday as the rain fell ceaselessly for well over 24 hours over Northern California. In the “warm-up” storm on Wednesday and Thursday, we got a nice little soaking of an inch. That’s a pretty common October storm for us — at least it used to be, before climate change really starting ramping up.
But the Sunday storm was not an “October storm” by anybody’s standards. By Sunday morning at 8 a.m., we had already gotten more rain in a single day than we have ever had in one day in October — 3″. And by the next morning, we had gotten more rain than we have ever had in October before: 7.25″. And the historic statistics don’t end there. In a single day, we got more rain than we did in all of the 2020-2021 winter. If you include the first storm of the week, we got almost twice as much rain in a week as we got all of last year’s rainy season.
To be fair, Winters got more rain from this storm than many places in Northern California. The atmospheric river got “stuck” over us for almost 24 hours, and with favorable winds it unloaded millions of gallons of water over the area. Creeks that haven’t run for two years came alive by noon. The rain exceeded the capacity of the soil to soak it up, and so hundreds of acres of orchards and fields were temporarily flooded. But within a day, the drought-parched landscape had swallowed all that water.
Soil that has absorbed 8 inches of rain in a week may appear solid. But even if it doesn’t have standing water on top of it, it is mostly liquid. If you are very careful and are wearing the right boots, you may be able to gently walk across it. But you certainly can’t do much work. And you definitely can’t drive on it.
We made a strategic plan last Friday to prepare for the post-storm work schedule. We designed a CSA box mostly made up of items we could harvest in advance, or that were already in storage. We worked all day Saturday to prepare and gave the crew Monday off. And the items we did plan on harvesting on Tuesday after the storm — Lettuce, Kale and Broccoli — were in fields located close to paved roads. Even so it was still a muddy, slippery mess. Working in — heck, even just walking in — wet soil is exhausting. Your boots get covered with mud and you feel like you’ve got concrete shoes on. And even if it’s not raining and you’re wearing waterproof gear, you end up wet and cold. No one on the farm is accustomed to these working conditions after the two years of sunny, dry weather we’ve had, and especially after the blazing hot summer that just ended a few weeks back.
Still, aside from the uncomfortable working conditions, this storm was almost 100% beneficial to our farm. The water made up a large percentage of the deficit from last winter, essentially before our normal rainy season normally begins. It didn’t end the drought, but it was a good first step towards ending the “famine” — like having a main course and desert as an appetizer, or having a 6 course meal for breakfast. We’ve got plenty of time left in this winter. In fact, winter hasn’t even started yet.