It’s been a while since we’ve had a good old fashioned August heat wave in Northern California. In fact, the eighth month of the year in 2011 and 2010 was much cooler than normal, especially the nights. But the weather history shows that scorching heat is far from unusual for this time of year: The recorded highest temperatures for Sacramento for most days this week are 110 or higher.
If you work outside, you don’t really forget 110 degrees. But I can’t even recall the last time it got that hot here in August — it seems to happen most years in either June or July. So if this weekend’s forecast for this weekend for record high temperatures comes to fruition, I probably will remember August 2012 pretty well.
Extreme heat speeds up the ripening of summer fruit and vegetables. During heatwaves, we tend to “burn through” produce: two weeks worth of tomatoes will ripen in a single week, for example. Summer produce doesn’t have a long shelf life as it is — we can’t store it for very long. But temperatures over 105 tend to reduce the shelf life further. Area wide, extended periods of heat tend to flood the market with fruit and vegetables, lowering prices. And once the hot weather ends, there tends to be a gap in production.
August heatwaves can also wreck havoc here at Terra Firma with our fall planting. We used to start planting beets, kale, broccoli and cabbage in mid-August. But the cool weather the last few years tricked us into starting even earlier. We have some fields that were planted last week that very well might not survive a solid week of extreme heat.
Our biggest concern with really hot weather, though, is for the health and safety of everyone who works out in it. The Catch 22 of growing summer vegetables is that when the weather is nice, there is generally less work to do. Our heaviest workload always comes during the periods of hot weather, when everyone would prefer to work less. Heck, I would love to shut the farm down completely during a heatwave like the one that started yesterday. But that’s just not how it works.
Instead, we do our best to cope. We try to find work for people in the shade during the hottest time of day, keep a close eye on everyone, and sometimes just send everyone home. By the fourth or fifth day of really hot weather, everyone on the farm is fried and overwhelmed. You don’t get used it, you just hope for it to end as soon as possible.
Like most Northern California heatwaves, this one is going to spread even to the Bay Area, giving you a taste of how we inland folks live. So stay cool, eat lots of cold watermelon and tomato salads.