Last January was the wettest January we had had in several years. This January is also the wettest January we have had in years. But that is where the similarities end.

January 2024 brought a number of incredibly wet storms that flooded our fields for weeks, although other areas saw much worse flooding. The storms were very cold, and the periods between them saw multiple nights of below-freezing temperatures. As a result, our crops grew slowly and produced poorly. We saw extensive freeze damage and stunting. Some crops did not mature at all.

This January the storms have been warmer with lower amounts of rain, but they have lasted for longer with lingering drizzle and fog. Despite having received less than half as much total precipitation as last year, we haven’t had a single day where the ground was not muddy. And we will likely end the month with a higher number of “rainy days” than January 2023.

And this winter’s weather has had a very different affect then last year’s on the crops, which do not stop growing just because it’s cloudy and raining. Temperatures this winter overall have been far above normal, especially at night. The combination of warm and wet actually speeds up crop growth. It also creates ideal conditions for fungal diseases that cannot tolerate freezing weather like we had last year. This is especially true if we don’t get sunny and dry periods between the storms.

But it’s not just our crops that are growing faster this year; the weeds are as well.

At Terra Firma, we plant quite a few acres of so-called “overwintering crops” in late fall including garlic, onions, and carrots. Our strawberries also grow through the winter. All of these crops must be cultivated at some point during the winter or they will disappear under the weeds.

It’s been six weeks since we were able to do any weeding — either mechanically or by hand. Wet, muddy soil clogs up tractor implements and hoes. There’s also no point in throwing uprooting weeds when the soil and air are damp, since they will simply re-root in whatever soil they fall back on.

As we get into February, weeds will start growing very quickly — especially with the warm temperatures — and it will become increasingly urgent for us to get some dry weather. It will also be time to start planting a few crops — particularly potatoes — and preparing fields for planting in March.

Last year the final week of January was dry — and cold — with wind that helped evaporate some of the excessive rain we had had. By early February, we were able to start cultivating weeds , planting some crops, and preparing ground. We ended up having a month-long dry spell to get those tasks done before the rains returned, with a vengeance, in March.

There is not much indication that the current pattern of wet weather is going to end any time soon, certainly not by early February. And despite the frequency of rain and duration of the wet weather, we are actually still below average for precipitation, year-to-date.

If I had my druthers, I would prefer to get all of our annual rain in December and January, when there is little or no downside to wet weather. Having very wet weather in March, as we did last year, is far more problematic. And statistically speaking, the longer it keeps raining into February, the more likely it will be to dry out in March.

Until then, it looks like we should all keep our raingear, umbrellas and rubber boots handy.