The on-going rain can dampen the spirit and worry the farmer. 2011 may well be one of the wettest springs in recent memory, with rain or showers predicted 10-14 days running. A couple posts back I noted the paths on the hills were drying out. I take that back. After days of rain, even the longer daylight is not reversing the soggy situation. And what about the low lands, the fields where we work to grow food for our local community. How do we manage such a deluge?
There are several strategies to manage a rainy spring. Crops that are being harvested and sold now are growing in 60-inch wide “beds” which is the distance between the tractor tires. The tire track, a compacted 12” swath on either side of the bed, becomes a path during harvest days and while it rains becomes a ditch to carry away water. Plants grown in beds are less susceptible to rot, because the root zone can drain more quickly.
Many of the salad crops are in beds and covered with plastic or floating row covers (agrifabric). Covering helps with warmth and insect damage, but in the rain and especially wind, can be problematic. This year, we have struggled to keep the covers in place in the wind. I saw an amazing YouTube video of plastic row cover in the wind. It reminds Paul of Christo’s “Running Fence” gone array.
The greenhouses are another helpful tool. We have several crops that are grown entirely inside; pea shoots which get mixed into our salad and sunflower sprouts which we are selling separately right now. When the salad is in large part pea shoots, the lettuce and greens in the field are most likely difficult to pick. But most of the greenhouse space is given over to growing plants to be transplanted into the field; kales, chard, onions, head lettuces, broccoli, cabbages. Right now many plants are ready to go out, but they have no place to go. The fields are too wet to prepare, so those plants will end up in the compost because successive plantings in the greenhouse will be ready at the right time.
Sometimes it is helpful to look back at Paul’s “Top Secret” notebook, (his field notes over the years). For instance, first tomatoes were planted (under covers) on April 3rd in 2009 and 2008. Last year, they went in April 10th. There was 2 ½” to 3” of rain the first week of May in 2009. But the most noteworthy stat could be that 2008, ‘09 and ‘10 there were 5 to 6 plantings of cool season crops in March. So far this year there have been no planting days. The repercussions of that are obvious. We will have less to sell a couple months from now. Thankfully, we had a dry January and were able to plant. Some of January’s crops are those we are picking now.
We hope for dry weather soon and that those first crops explode with growth.