Monday morning, the National Weather Service office in Sacramento issued a Tweet: “Are you ready for the next series of storms? Use these dry days to prepare for (another) stormy week”. We took their advice. Now on Wednesday morning, the rain has already returned and we are rushing to wrap up harvest activities before the sprinkles transition to heavy downpours.
We got more than ten inches of rain between New Year’s day and last Friday. That’s more rain than we got the entire winter of 2014-2015, and the most rain we’ve received in such a short time since 2005. It’s also the coldest winter we’ve had in years. Any day it isn’t raining, we’ve had frost or even ice on the ground in the morning.
Growing winter vegetables and citrus is undeniably easier in the drought. We could harvest what we needed to, when we needed to, in the mostly warm and sunny weather.
Just about everything we do is harder now that normal winter weather has returned. Harvesting vegetables during storms is unpleasant and difficult. It’s hard enough just to walk in the slippery mud, and impossible to be efficient when rain is blowing in your face. And we can’t pick citrus at all when it’s raining: climbing wet ladders in cumbersome raingear wearing muddy boots is downright dangerous.
Instead, we check the weather twice a day, plan around breaks between the storms, and then harvest as much as we can until the rain starts again. Just 12 hours of sun and a little wind can dry the ground out enough to make a huge difference in the work.
Big storms like the one last Wednesday almost always damage one or more of our crops: the combined rain and wind knocked lots of navel oranges on the ground. One of our big tasks during the current dry spell is to get as much citrus harvested as possible. Better an orange in the cooler than on the ground.
On the other hand, January is the month we’d most like to see lots of rain. Vegetables don’t want to be planted here the first month of the year: even when it’s warm and dry, there just aren’t enough daylight hours to make the plants grow. So as long as we get a few dry days each week, we’re happy to see the rain keep falling and the reservoirs filling.
This week marks the fourth consecutive month that we have not done any irrigation on our farm. We have already had more rain this year-to-date than we did all last season, and since mid-October, our crops have received 100% of their water from the sky. After last week’s rains, the Drought Monitoring Center declared the drought officially over for most of Northern California, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and Yolo and Solano counties where we farm. Southern California is still behind, but one or two more big storms will push them over the top as well and we’re only halfway through the wet season.
That’s something to celebrate this week.