We’ve been pretty lucky this summer with the weather. Sure, we’ve had a few stretches of hundred-degree weather — one of which put a premature end to our strawberry season. But our farm is in the Sacramento Valley, after all, and it’s supposed to be hot here. And while 2016 so far is the “hottest year” ever for the planet, we haven’t had a single record setting day this summer.
In fact, temperatures here were actually below normal in July up until now. Nights were especially cool, even on days when it reached the upper 90s, thanks to a vigorous Delta breeze bringing in marine air from the Bay every night. Mornings for most of the month have been in the low 50s, and we’ve been shivering in our hoodies.
Weather like that keeps our summer crops from ripening on the daily schedule we are accustomed to. By way of comparison, the cooler where we store our tomatoes after harvesting them is kept at 55 degrees. When the entire field spends the night in the “cooler”, we harvest tomatoes and melons just two or three times a week. And if the cool weather lasts for a week or more, ripening slows to just a trickle. That’s what happened last week.
Enter a heatwave, such as the one we are now experiencing. The Delta breeze has shut down, and the valley turns into an oven. When hot days are followed by warm nights, it just keeps getting hotter and hotter. All the fruit hanging on the vines is baking in the oven.
When it’s really hot, we have to work quit earlier to get everyone out of the heat. At the same time, the amount of work increases. Even though we switch to a daily harvest instead of every-other day, in the past heatwaves we have finished harvesting the tomatoes at noon only to find the beds we harvested first thing in the morning have already ripened more fruit. If a heatwave lasts long enough, we lose the ability to keep up with the crops.
A three-week heatwave like we had back in 2006 is a weather disaster equivalent to a windstorm, a plague of locusts or even a flood. We can lose a month’s worth of crops simply because they ripen weeks ahead of time and we can’t keep up with them.
Happily, this heat event doesn’t look to last anywhere near that long, although it may set a record today or tomorrow. But we were able to find some extra workers to ease the burden on everyone. And by next Monday it’s expected to “cool” back down into the 90s. Until then, wish us luck staying cool and keeping up with the crops.