Fall Equinox is just a week away, and in others parts of the U.S. it is primarily characterized by trees turning bright red, orange and yellow. At Terra Firma it means fields of leafy greens taking the place of summer crops like melons, tomatoes and corn.
Salad greens like Arugula (in your boxes today), spinach and lettuce grow quickly and are ready to harvest in as little as three weeks after planting. And the hotter the temperature, the faster they grow. But hot weather can also make them tough and bitter.
For all of these reasons, growing tender greens for harvest in September in the Central Valley is a crapshoot. Temperatures here in late summer can and regularly do reach well over 100 degrees. We also get hot winds that can dry out and scorch the leaves, making them unusable. There have been years when we had a nice crop of arugula or spinach growing, but we were unable to harvest the greens for your boxes because of the weather on harvest day.
From a risk vs. reward perspective, these crops are not particularly expensive to grow and don’t spend much time in the ground. But the potential benefit — a bag of greens in your CSA box — is significant. It’s safer to wait to plant until summer is almost over, but that means not having greens in your boxes until October.
And so during the second half of August, we often find ourselves going back and forth on whether or not to plant salad greens or wait. Long-term weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable and thus provide little assistance. So usually make the decision based on the weather at the time, even though making assumptions about next month‘s weather based on this month‘s weather makes about as much sense as flipping a coin.
This year we’ve been going through a pattern of hot weather alternating with, um, slightly less hot weather. But we also haven’t had any major heatwaves. I decided I thought this pattern would continue into September, so I planted a small amount of salad greens on August 20th — about a week earlier than we otherwise would.
It seems this year we got lucky. We’re having a cool spell this week, just in time for the first Arugula in your boxes. And it’s supposed to get hot again next week, just in time for the official start of “Fall”, when we conveniently will be “between fields” of salad greens. After that, the hottest weather will likely be over and you’ll see either arugula, spinach or lettuce in your boxes for the rest of the year.