Most TFF subscribers are probably aware by now that there’s a heatwave going on.  Yesterday it got pretty toasty even in most of our delivery areas in SF and the East Bay.  That was a big change for most of you, but for us it had already been hot for over a month — even by our normal standards.

Still, this week looks like it could be one for the record books here.  Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between 100 degrees and 110 degrees.  On average we experience around 21 days of temperatures at or above 100 spread between mid-May and the end of September.  This year it looks likely we’ll hit that number on or before July 15th.  Days that hit 110 or higher are much less common here.  Most years we have zero, and the most we’ve ever had in a single year is three.  This year, we could break that record this week.

Overnight low temperatures are actually more impactful for us.  Most summer mornings when we start work at sunrise, it’s chilly enough that everyone is wearing a hoodie — high 50s or low 60s.  That’s often the same temperature as places like Berkeley at the same hour.  As we work through the morning, the temperature rises and the hoodies come off.  By the time we hit the 8 hour mark, it’s just starting to get hot and we head home.

In the Sacramento Valley, it’s not really a “heatwave” unless the temperature is over 103 or 104 for multiple days.  When that happens, it is usually accompanied by a much more dramatic increase in nighttime temperatures.  That means it’s warmer when we start work — low to mid 70s — and it reaches 100 sooner.  Once that happens, we send everyone home — whether or not all the work gets finished.

This week, however, has been nuts.  We were lucky to get a cool morning and a not-so-hot day on Monday — it’s the busiest day of the week for us.  But Monday night it didn’t cool off and the next morning when we started work at 5:30 a.m. it was 85 degrees…and windy.  The wind continued almost all day, even as the temperature passed 100 degrees at 11:30.  Overnight the temperature dropped to 70 degrees for a few hours, but then the wind kicked up again and by 5:30 it was 83 degrees again.

Those warm — HOT — temperatures at night acccelerate the ripening of the crops we’re harvesting right now.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, corn and watermelons all need to be harvested more often in order to avoid becoming overmature.  Translation:  we have more work to do, but less time to get it done.  And everyone is tired and irritated by the relentless heat.

The weather forecast for the rest of this week — 4 days or more of 110 degrees or hotter — is very concerning because of how unprecedented it is.  People have been asking me “What is going to happen to the crops?”.  I don’t actually know, because it’s never happened before, and I am hoping that it doesn’t happen this time, either.  What I do know is that it definitely will impact our “future tomatoes” — not the ones we are currently harvesting, but the plants that are flowering.  Most tomatoes will simply abort their fruit in very hot conditions, choosing to reduce the burden on the plants.  It doesn’t mean they won’t eventually make tomatoes, but it will likely mean we see a “gap” in our harvest in about a month.  We’ve had that happen numerous times in the past, even during less extreme heat events.

Other crops will likely be impacted as well.  Peppers are very sensitive to sunburn, and we’ll likely see a significant loss of harvestable fruit.  And our immature Table Grapes are vulnerable to heat damage when it reaches 105 degrees: we’ve seen losses before resulting from heatwaves in both June and July.  Once the grapes turn color and start ripening, they don’t mind the heat, but they’re still green right now.

A few of our crops actually love very hot weather, such as watermelons and cantelopes.  But I’m not sure they love 110 degrees.  I guess we’ll find out.  I’ve learned not to underestimate the ability of plants to acclimate themselves to hot or cold weather.  Humans can also do so.  This event will almost certainly teach us valuable lessons — like every weather event we have experienced on the farm.

As I mentioned above, I am hoping that the worst-case scenarios with this July 4th heatwave do not materialize. While other extreme weather events are often classified as “Natural Disasters”, Heat Waves are not. Victims of tornadoes, floods, droughts, wildfires and freezes are eligible for federal disaster relief.  But if you suffer loses due to extreme heat, you have no potential remediation.  This apparent oversight would seem to be completely out of step with other policies focused on climate change and extreme weather. A coalition of groups is currently working to have the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) revise there standards to include what is likely to become a more frequent and common ocurrence.

Have a Happy Fourth and stay safe in the heat,