It’s the end of the year, and thus time for the obligatory year-end retrospectives. 2022 was another rough year in a decade that has specialized in them. We still have Covid, but now we’ve also got inflation and war as well.
Here at Terra Firma, we were surprised and saddened in June by the untimely death of our founder, Paul Holmes. Although he had retired in 2018, he had continued to help guide our decisions and provide counsel. May he rest in peace.
From an agricultural perpective, 2022 was not kind to us at Terra Firma either, nor to many other farms in California. The trouble it threw our way included the near-total loss of our stonefruit crop due to a freeze, a windstorm that destroyed our strawberry field at the peak of harvest, and a record-shattering heatwave in September. And then there was the incredibly untimely deluge of rain in September coming after the driest spring on record. Honestly, we were dreading November and December.
The last two months of the year can be quite challenging for us, as both flooding and freezing events are not uncommon during this time. Thankfully this year, we’ve avoided any late-season disasters. Yes, it’s been cold — but it hasn’t gotten too cold. And it’s also been wet, but not too wet. It almost feels like we are coasting into the holiday season.
But the weather this year is not our only challenge this time of year: staffing our farm for the winter is also tricky. We’ve had years where we have plenty of people, only to have a freeze wipe out some of the crops — and much of the work. In really wet years, we never have enough people because we can’t do much in the rain and can’t get caught up in between storms. Illness also takes a toll: we lucked out during 2020 with few of our staff getting Covid, but then had numerous illnesses in 2021-22 that meant we were always short a few people all winter. It’s too soon to say how this winter will pan out but so far we’re managing just fine.
One thing I can already say about winter 2022-23 is that the fruit and nut trees are loving it. All deciduous tree crops need a minimum number of “chill” during the winter — hours below 45 degrees — to produce the concentrated, heavy bloom of flowers that is required for a good harvest. As of today, we have had more chilling hours year-to-date than any year since 2011. In fact, we have already surpassed the amount of chilling hours we received during some entire recent winters.
Chilling hours are a prerequisite, not a guarantee, of good crops fruit or nuts. Everything else still has to go right from now until next summer. But we have the potential to have a very abundant tree crop season next summer, which is nice given that we had almost zero crop this year due to the spring freeze.
I am also cautiously optimistic about rainfall this winter. Sensibly, this fall and winter so far are nothing like the last four years. In addition to the very chilly weather, we’ve had regular, moderate rainfall — with more in the forecast. The hills are greening up and on a clear day you can see abundant snow on the Sierra peaks from our fields. If this pattern continues into 2023, we could end up at or above average precipitation. Not likely enough to end the drought but maybe enough to keep it from worsening.
Going into the year-end holidays, our fields are in about as good shape as any year I can remember — fingers crossed as always. With luck, as 2023 gets started you’ll continue to see lots of nice greens, broccoli, citrus and everything else you would expect from a Northern California mid-winter CSA box.
We wish you a healthy and happy holiday season until we return in early January. Thanks for subscribing