There is always something to do at Terra Firma if it’s not raining, and we all know it hasn’t been raining much this winter. So we’ve been busy and the farm is already getting pretty “full”.
From April through October, you could say our farm planting schedule is written in stone. It is very rare that we miss a planting of any of our crops during the dry season. But from November through March, we have to keep our plans flexible and weather-dependent. In an average winter, we get just a few short periods of conditions where it’s dry enough to prepare fields and plant crops — not to mention other important activities. In truly wet winters, we might not get chance to plant anything at all as the most critical job is always weeding the crops that are already growing. We also never know when it might stop raining again, so we are very conservative with our planting in order to ensure that we’ll have a field ready the next time it’s dry.
This winter and last, however, have really been a non-stop extension of the dry season — a “Groundhog Day” of sunny, dry weather with little or no rain at all to interrupt our activities. We took a month off from planting in December, but then resumed again on January 1st and have not stopped since. With the fields completely dry unless they are being irrigated, and a long-term forecast of little rain, there was no reason not to regularly and generously plant from the relatively short list of crops we know will grow here in the early spring: Peas, Carrots, Spinach, Kale, Lettuce, and Beets.
Plants are not fooled by spring weather in the middle of winter. You can plant corn in January here, for example, but even if it’s sunny and warm the seeds won’t sprout because the soil is too cold. Other crops might sprout, but they will get stunted by the cold nights. Still others, like Arugula, are extremely sensitive to the length of the days and will go immediately to seed if planted before the first of March.
Potatoes are also a spring crop here, but they will rot in the ground if planted into wet soil and rainy weather. So we often wait until March or even April to plant them. This year, we started planting the spuds on February 1st and finished ten days later. With the warm and mostly dry weather, they are already sending up shoots, and we hope to start harvest in late May. We order our potato seed — which are not seeds at all, but whole potato tubers — in the fall each year, so we were caught off guard by the pandemic-induced increase in our CSA subscriptions. That is why we ran out of spuds early last year and had to source so many from other growers. This year, we’ve planted almost twice as many, including a couple of red varieties.
Long-time subscribers know that late February or early March is also when we generally put out our first tomato plants, and this year is no exception. It was too windy to plant last week, so we are doing it tomorrow. Unlike their potato cousins, tomatoes start out above ground and get a head start on growing. We’ll start harvesting our first cherry tomatoes sometime in May, but almost always a week or more before the spuds.
So compared to other years, you’re going to see an abundance of beautiful produce in your boxes this spring. But we’ve gotten some emails asking us when the contents of our CSA boxes will have more variety. Honestly, there are not a ton of crops that grow in Northern California in the spring that you haven’t seen in your boxes in the winter, however, we will have Asparagus and Peas beginning later this month, and Strawberries starting in mid-April.