Two weeks ago, we cancelled work for the first time ever in September due to extreme heat. And now in another “first” for September, we have cancelled work — for not one but three days — due to rain.
If you live in certain parts of the Bay Area, you may not know that many parts of Northern California — including Terra Firma — experienced quite a bit of rain over the last four days. It started raining Sunday morning, and it’s still raining as I write this on Wednesday. This is not just an “uncommon” weather event for us, but an off-the-charts one. The inch and a quarter of rain we’ve received is roughly 1000% of our average September rainfall. And just fifteen miles away, Davis received more than twice as much.
With our year-round harvest schedule, of course we are accustomed to working in wet and muddy conditions all winter, but the crops we are harvesting during that season actually like the rain and don’t mind getting wet. The same cannot be said of our summer crops. Tomatoes, for example, tend to split open when they get rained on. And the boxes that we harvest them into are made out of regular cardboard, not the waxed cardboard we use for so-called “wet vegetables”. They fall apart when they get wet. Green beans can’t be harvested when they are wet — they get moldly in the box. We often harvest them after a light rain, if the sun comes out and they dry out. Unfortunately, this storm featured several heavy downpours that knocked the plants down into the mud, ruining many of the beans.
The September-to-Remember Storm actual bookends last year’s historic Bombtober event, since so-called “Water Years” in California are measured from Oct. 1 to September 30th of the following year. Our location now has ended up receiving above-average rainfall for that period. Unfortunately, almost half of that rainfall came during fall — when it is less beneficial in general and certainly not beneficial to farmers — instead of winter.
Agriculture here benefits from, and is predicated on, our Mediterrean climate: wet and snowy winters followed by long dry seasons with warm weather and little or no rain. The majority of the crops grown in Central Valley are adapted to those conditions, and experience all kinds of problems when it rains before or during harvest. And random storms during an otherwise dry season do not fill reservoirs or recharge the groundwater because the ground and air are too dry.
None of this took away from the personal joy I experienced during this very rare rain event, especially coming as it did so close on the heels of a miserable heatwave. The farm is always painfully dusty in September but it’s been even worse this year. The rain has washed the dust off the plants and trees, and completely soaked the soil. And unlike the remaining summer crops, our up-and-coming fall and winter crops loved it and the cooler weather it brought.
Will September storms remain a once-in-a-lifetime event in Northern California, or will they become more common in a climate-changed world? I don’t think anyone knows. But I personally would love to get some rain every year around this time — as long as it’s not the only rain we get for the whole year.