It is windy out today: very windy. We’re talking about 40 mile-per-hour gusts creating rolling dust clouds, blowing unsecured objects away, and ripping leaves off trees and vegetable plants. It was windy yesterday too, and will be tomorrow as well, but today is a true “gale” — the peak of the dry storm.  A “Dusticane”.

We get these winds, which funnel along the east side of the Coast Range — accelerating as they go — relatively frequently. But it is more common in the spring and fall when we are transitioning from one season to another. It can be sometimes as hot as 100 degrees or as cold as 25, in which case it does tremendous damage. But it is always dry, and the longer it lasts, the drier it gets.

During wind events, many tasks on the farm become difficult bordering on futile. The transplants we use, for example, blow away if you loosen your grip on them. And they quickly dessicate in the dry wind after planting. Even planting seeds is difficult, as they tend to blow away while one is transferring them to the planters.

Any form of irrigation where the water is exposed to the air is also pointless. The dry wind evaporates half of the water emitted by sprinklers, and blows the rest of it far beyond the intended target area. But even flood irrigation is ineffective, as so much of the water is evaporated rather than moving across the field.

On days like today, we turn on the water only in the fields that are irrigated with drip hoses that are underground. But even that only serves to keep the soil from drying out excessively. The wind strips moisture from the plants faster than they can take it up from the ground. It can be very distressing to walk or drive through the fields, as the plants are visibly wilting. If the wind lasts for long enough, and is strong enough, that wilting will cause permanent damage. Flowers are particularly vulnerable. While we are not technically a flower farm, fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash and yes, strawberries can all be affected if their flowers blow off instead of pollinating.

So far this year we have avoided major damage as the winds have not been “too strong”, i.e, over 50 mph. And we’ve had nice 4-6 hour periods of calm during the evening that have allowed the plants to recover and the air to partially humidify. Then they can withstand another day’s worth of gusts.

In general, we try to avoid having our crew work on the windiest days whenever possible. Just as for plants, it is impossible for humans to stay properly hydrated and even on cool days, people start to show symptoms similar to heat exhaustion. Everyone is grumpy and covered with dust by noon. No one talks, as people keep their mouths covered and the noise of the wind makes conversation difficult.

If I were more social media savvy, I would try to make a video of some of the more absurd things I have seen happen on the windiest days, but I would likely get frustrated by the wind itself during the filming and give up.

Today, we started picking strawberries first thing, before the wind picked up. We got done early and the crew will head home before lunch, and we’ll all be hoping it’s less gusty tomorrow.