News from the Farm | June 2, 2014

Summer Transitions

There are periods of the season when we get caught between the ending of one crop cycle and the beginning of another. The end of May and beginning of June is perennially one of these times. We are in the middle of transitioning from spring to summer as we find interesting crops with which to fill your boxes. 

Bound by weather and temperature, the slowly disappearing hard C crops –kalecollardscabbagecarrotschard – make their exit from your boxes along with lettuce, other greens and leafy veggies. These will return next October. I think that most of us are about ready to not be missing these veggies and are looking forward to tomatoes, melons and fruits – the full expression of summer. 

The farm is designed to push the edges of the seasons – not knowing what we might encounter three months forward. Each year is so very different. Two years ago, in a very wet spring, we picked lettuce until the end of June and the first melons were mid July. This year is about two weeks early, with May/ June peaches and apricots starting to appear in your boxes along with basil, peppers, and summer squash. We still have a planting of carrots and beets to finish and there are plenty of potatoes, onions, and garlic to fill in the seasonal gap. 

Seasons can be cheated a bit and at the same time complement our water savings efforts for the year. We laid down more recyclable plastic mulch this year – a thin plastic sheeting that we can plant through – in order to eliminate weeds and provide more consistent moisture management for the plants. We had for years resisted this use of plastic but it has proven to be a valuable tool. We bury drip lines on both sides of the plants allowing us to use less water while warming up colder spring soils.

This strategy – early season – allows us to gain a couple of weeks on plant maturity – getting melons, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes ahead of less intensive systems. With this mulch, we can even out the fluctuations in daytime and evening temperatures and the effect that those swings have on plant growth. Other mulch systems, like cover crops, also help to conserve soil moisture – and we employ these strategies throughout the rest of the season for soil building and water conservation.

So we are trying to fill out the June gap with strategies to make summer happen earlier. By diversifying our cropping strategies and cultural strategies, we build some overall plant resilience and lower our exposure to risk. 

Our biggest uncertainty this year revolves around water supply and trying to project forward three months. We are fortunate to be on Cache Creek and are able to utilize this water in the short term. Our wells are beginning to show signs of stress from a lower water table. Although we have water at this point and feel ourselves fortunate, we are not sure what the situation will be from August on. We are planting crops like tomatoes and melons that will require water in those months, but uncertain about whether or not we will have water to support those crops. We have eliminated corn because of its water use, and are cutting back on winter squash. Perhaps the biggest uncertainty will be water to support fall planting. We are doing week- to- week analysis and evolving our plans as best we can.

On the whole we feel very fortunate. There are tragedies for many farms wrought by this drought – trees being pulled, herds of breeding stock sold off, crop land fallowed with the resulting impacts that ripple through the rural economy.  We thank you for your patience as we figure it out. Your support and willingness to endure one more week of kale inspires us. Thank you.

— Paul Muller

Onions are no longer sporting their green tops – instead they are drying in the sun.