We have been busier at the farm this winter than I ever remember us being. So busy, actually, that it feels like mid-spring. In many ways, it has been a Goldilocks phenomenon for us at Terra Firma. We received just shy of our normal winter precipitation, but it all fell during December. Since then, the weather has not prevented us from doing any work.
This is a blessing and a curse. We had an unreasonably long list of winter projects this year: install a new irrigation system and plant several acres of permanent crops — an asparagus field as well as walnut and persimmon orchards.
Normally we don’t schedule this many projects in the winter that require more than a week of dry weather. We could easily have arrived at the third week of March not having been able to finish any of them. Instead, all four are almost complete.
Unfortunately, the same nice weather that has made this possible has accelerated our regular spring work schedule. Pruning, for example, is normally a fairly leisurely activity done in the fog and cold. This year we were racing to finish as peaches, apricots, pears and grapes in turn began to push growth a month or more ahead of schedule.
The cover crops that we grow on many of our fields in the winter to build and protect the soil normally sit dormant between winter solstice and now, growing very slowly and then putting on most of their growth after Spring Equinox. We usually move sheep onto the fields to graze them in early March and then work up the soil after they eat the vegetation. This year we started grazing those fields in early February, and are finishing up today in a field where the plants were taller than the sheep.
Our spring transplants grow in greenhouses, and the more sunlight they get, the faster they grow. Once they get to be certain size, it’s time to plant them, no matter the date. So it is that our first tomatoes went into the ground on February 26th, a few days later than last year but two weeks ahead of schedule. Looking back at last year, our first tomato harvest was in mid-May. This year we had several cold nights just after planting, but the tomatoes have already recovered from that. We expect to be harvesting before Memorial Day.
In other words, we didn’t get much of a break this winter, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that summer is coming quickly. We don’t know yet how the tomatoes and other summer vegetables will fare, but there’s a bumper crop of strawberries on the plants already and the fruit trees are loaded. It’s a fair guess that those crops will keep us very, very busy for the foreseeable future.
It’s not polite for a farmer, in the midst of a terrible drought, to boast about heavy crops and adequate rainfall. All over the state, many farmers are struggling to survive right now. But it’s important for me to make sure that you, our subscribers, know that Terra Firma Farm is in good shape.
There are many parts of California that you can say do not have a sustainable source of water for agriculture, especially with our climate changing. For now, the area where we farm in Yolo and Solano Counties is not one of those.
But if the drought doesn’t end soon, we may die from exhaustion.