August is a transition month on the farm. You won’t see it in your boxes, which are still stuffed with all the goodies of summer. But we start planting our fall and winter crops this week, and things really ramp up as Labor Day approaches.
It’s awkward timing, to say the least. For one thing, it’s really hot. Most of our fall crops — broccoli, cabbage, greens, carrots, spinach, celery — don’t like hot weather at all. Especially when they are tiny seedlings. But if we don’t plant them this month, they won’t be ready to harvest by the time our summer crops finish up in October. Some items that we are planting in the next few weeks won’t be ready to harvest until late December!
We can only transplant seedlings on cooler days or first thing in the morning so we can water them immediately. While we had a few weeks of nice weather back in early July, it’s turned very hot since then and looks to stay that way for a while. Which leaves us with just a few hours each day for planting. But many of our summer crops also need to be picked in the early morning when it’s cool.
Irrigation is critical for these young crops not just the day we plant them, but for several weeks afterwards. While our summer crops get watered roughly once a week, the small and tender fall crops need water 2-3 times per week until it starts to cool off in the fall. Unlike many farmers in California right now, our water supply is fairly secure — at least for the rest of the year. But it’s a big job to keep everything wet in the heat.
A funny thing happens when we plant the fall crops and water them frequently: the weeds, which are much happier about the hot weather, tend to go crazy. That makes the timing of our weed interventions — mechanical as well as human-powered — even more critical than it usually is. And of course, we have to stop irrigating for a few days in order to get into a field to perform weed control. The hotter it is, the harder it becomes to get this — as well as almost everything else we do here — done.
California has had some pretty odd weather the last week or so, with cloud skies, sprinkles, and high humidity. Cloudy skies give us a break from the relentless sun, but also translate into warmer nights. And the higher humidity makes the heat feel hotter. It’s a novelty to have showery weather here in the summer, but the tropical moisture also brings the threat of lightning-caused fires like the ones started last week in Siskyou County. Overall, this farmer gives the current weather pattern a big thumbs down. I’d rather have the dry heat that is more typical of Central Valley summers.
I’ve mentioned a few times that we haven’t had a great tomato season so far at TFF. That seems to be changing this week, as our later plantings apparently enjoyed the weather in July and are now ripening quite a bit of fruit. The last few years the tomatoes pooped out in mid-August as a result of disease and excessively hot weather, but this year it looks quite different. We’re hoping to keep tomatoes in your boxes through September this year and into October.