Weather Roulette (the annual weather complaint blog in which your trusty farmer gets a bit Debbie Downer!)

[WC (weather complainer) warning - this is my annual cathartic weather venting. I’ll shut up after this, I promise!]

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What a spring.

From a seemingly early start that morphed into what feels like unending wet gloom, it’s been a wild and muddy April and May this year.

The driest day we’ve worked ground so far this season is wetter than the wettest conditions we’ve ever worked land before. Working soil when it’s too wet can lead to problems like poor germination of seeds, a damaged soil structure, or crumbly, clumpy soil that makes weeding a PITA later. We’ve been focusing on building up our soil to be better, so it pains us to treat it so mean.

But on the plus side (I guess?), it’s actually been so dank and dark the weeds aren’t growing this year either.

Good news for this field… it dried out enough this week (thank goodness) and I’m seeding beans here today!

Good news for this field… it dried out enough this week (thank goodness) and I’m seeding beans here today!

I try not to complain about the weather, I really do. [Matt wants to go on the record that he disagrees with that statement.]

I know that as a farmer, we throw ourselves into nature and hope for the best, but expect at times the worst. Plus, all our great, loyal customers and CSA members are stuck with us in this gloomy spring and hardly need their farmer complaining too!

The thing is, sometimes I do complain (hey, I’m only human). And sometimes after I complain, it’s been suggested that I just change careers to something that doesn’t rely on the weather.

And yes, Matt and I could pack it in and go do something else that would definitely be easier and more profitable. But that just solves the problem of increasingly damaging and erratic weather for two people.

Don’t worry, thanks to the high tunnel and our field raincoats, we still have veggies (this is last Saturday)… they are just slower than normal!

Don’t worry, thanks to the high tunnel and our field raincoats, we still have veggies (this is last Saturday)… they are just slower than normal!

I’m a total podcast addict, given how much time I spend alone in the fields. I LOVE PODCASTS. Well this week, I listened to a grand total of four podcasts where at some point the discussion came to rural areas struggling with the economy/tariffs, farmers dealing with bad weather, or these situations combined. And in each case, the podcast hosts or guest, most of whom I normally respect, took some variation of the position that farmers/rural folks just need to change to more economically profitable careers and/or move to urban areas.

This got me steamed to the point of becoming that crazy lady who heatedly calls in to said podcasts.

Yes, on an individual level, a farmer or even ten thousand farmers can change careers or move. But at some point, WHO is going to grow our food? On an individual level, extreme weather fluctuations stress me and our farm out. But on a bigger picture level, extreme weather fluctuations terrify me, because I know how hard they are on food producers, and it’s not just our farm dealing with this, but the farms growing food for 7.5 billion people.

This is from last year… we haven’t had enough sun for rainbows yet in 2019!

This is from last year… we haven’t had enough sun for rainbows yet in 2019!

The west has fire after fire, and is running out of water for both communities and the main produce production zones for the nation. The mountain west had snow this week, the plains have floods and tornadoes and hail, the upper Midwest and northeast (including us) are swathed in Mordor-like gloom with rain every other day, and the southeast is getting a bit of all of the above.

Yesterday’s initial forecast, when announced back on Tuesday, was for a medium chance of tornadoes and hail.

Not rain or mist or thunderstorms, but weather potentially so extreme there’s nothing we can even do about it. Thankfully, conditions shifted and let us off the hook, at least until Saturday when the next front comes through.

I know that weather changes and varies, and I know that climate change is this terrifying behemoth that it’s hard to wrap our heads around what we can do about it. But there’s just so much more darn energy in the atmosphere, that every storm and every weather alert has me jumping.

It’s like a game of Russian roulette, when you pray for the clouds to miss your farm each time, but know that if they do, it’s your neighbor on the other ridge or across town who will be SOL. Last night we could even see the violent rain (hopefully not hail) falling, and it was so close we know the farmers getting slammed by it.

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If all of our nation’s farmers who feel like they are looking down the barrel of this roulette game changed careers this week, would we have anybody left to grow our food?

In the short term, the answer is yes, since we are just one minuscule cog in the international food system. Small, local farms sell at the edges of the same markets as giant multinationals, who are able to buy from the cheapest products anywhere on the globe. If Midwest farmers get drowned out this year, these big companies just source their soy and beef from farmers in the newly razed forests of Amazon Brazil. If NY bulk milk costs a few pennies higher to produce per pound, they just ship in milk from cows raised in massive air conditioned barns draining western aquifers.

These big companies don’t care yet that growers in some regions are dealing with weather extremes because they can shift to buy elsewhere for the same low prices. But when these far off Amazon producers or Texas desert dairies get their turn in the weather roulette disaster zone and the big food corporations come back to look for their original producers for soy or dairy or vegetables, what farmers will have weathered their turn at roulette and still be left?

Customers who buy local (and if you’ve stayed with me so far, I’m guessing this is you!) do a big part in helping the farms that work outside this system keep growing and keep our local communities vibrant and green and alive. (THANK YOU guys—I know that we and our fellow farmers at local markets hugely appreciate and rely on your support, especially in crappy years like this spring!)

Tiny Beulah thinks our customers are the best!

Tiny Beulah thinks our customers are the best!

I also urge all of us, farmer and eater alike, to do what we can to learn about and try to mitigate climate change, whether that’s driving a bit less or putting pressure on our government to do more, so that we can make sure our next generation has plenty of delicious food to eat in the future.

Our takeaway as farmers this spring is that we have to get more and more agile, even as we try to figure out what that means—smaller operations, with more crops like mushrooms or livestock? A larger operation with more land under protective high tunnels? Starting to plant trees and nuts and fruits? Making protective raincoats for all our fields (don’t laugh, this strategy is what allowed us to plant this year’s peas, spinach, and lettuce on time!)?

And how do we keep our hope up as the clouds and mist continue to swirl around us? (I can answer that, it’s coffee, ice cream, cheese, and beer. Oh, and more coffee.)

Whatever we choose, it’s clear that we have to get smarter and quicker each year if we plan to survive the increasingly close rounds of weather roulette.

Now go out there and try to mow a bit more lawn (hmm… maybe we can just all agree to give up lawn mowing if it rains so much?) before the next rainstorm rolls through!

I know, the sky isn’t always being mean here!

I know, the sky isn’t always being mean here!

Flashback to 2016: May!

Getting the Veggies in the Ground!

... between the raindrops, that is! We've not had much time to post since our last big rain event because it's been raining on and off since then, which keeps us really busy trying to squeeze crops into the ground and stay on top of the weeds (which LOVE wet weather).  We can work around the rain but it's a lot harder--your boots get so heavy with mud it's like walking through quicksand.

Peas, lettuce, and spinach in the mist!

The last month or so has certainly been up and down. It's been quite a challenging spring this year--what makes the challenge most impressive is that we have had pretty much every spring weather situation occur here that could be a challenge in NY:  a cold, late start, a drought period with constant high winds, deluges, cold nights, and more.  And we actually were somewhat lucky here at the farm--we missed the mid-May snow that hit the upper Midwest, the late May snow that reached NH and VT, and the remnants of Andrea that dumped on the Hudson Valley!

Standing sentinel... Arlo is getting tired of all the rain!

Because we are new to our land, these challenges have also brought some learning opportunities as to how our soils and site can handle things.  On the positive side, 2012's drought was a powerful lesson in irrigation, so we are definitely better on that front.  We also better utilized our hedgerows as windbreaks this year, which was a huge help on some of the days where it hit 60 mph.  Our row cover investment lets us get almost an acre under row cover, and has definitely paid off--reducing pest, wind, and water stress on all the crops lucky enough to be under it.

Row covers in action (here they cover our broccoli family crops--mostly for pest control from our nemesis, the flea beetle).

On the negative side, we have been facing one huge challenge.  We have this beautiful lower field that we've been prepping since last year to hold 3 acres of our summer and fall crops (which is half of the acreage we grow).  We've spent hundreds of hours working on getting this ground ready, including a huge chunk of time in the last 3 weeks.  However, after getting more rain in just over a week than we did all summer, we learned that some of our fields are slower to drain than others.  Specifically, these 3 acres just aren't drying out.  After waiting and trying to work it and waiting some more, we realized we had to radically change our cropping plans in order to get the summer crops into the ground.

Mulched beds in the lower (wetter) field--so far the plants seem happy!

Fortunately, we had an area in the northern field that we had seeded down to oats to rest and rebuild for the 2013 season.  We realized that we needed to pull out the oats and get those summer crops in there.  We are lucky that we had this overflow option, but having to prepare these extra few acres has definitely strained our time resources (and our backs!).

One of the rougher areas tilled up for flowers--the green is just oats, which should break down quickly (we hope!).

We ended up tilling these beds and they look really good.  The soil seems very nice (and most importantly is DRY!).  We fit the beds for summer crops with black plastic.  We aren't huge fans of using the plastic, but it does a great job of warming up the soil (which is key for peppers, eggplant, melons, and tomatoes), keeping down weeds, and trapping in moisture.  We are also lucky enough to live in Madison County, which does recycle this at our dump.

All the summer cropped beds prepped and ready to plant.

We played hookey Sunday to go see the Civil War reenactment at the Gerritt Smith estate--so much cool history in CNY!

Making holes for the tomatoes (Matt's back is feeling this today!)

Eggplant and their protective clay cover (we dip them in clay prior to planting for some bug protection)

Before the rain Monday, we finished off all these beds!  It feels good to have these crops in the ground, and now we have time to assess that tricky lower field and learn what will work for using it.  Since that big rain (4" over a couple days) that flooded the field, the ground has been slowly drying out, and it seemed to handle our 2" rain storm well, which gives up hope that it will be fine in the future with some more moderate weather!

Tomatoes getting started (our main crop is all in the ground now!)

Arlo supervising as we get ready to water in transplants with our fancy new hose cart.

 

Rain! Rain! Rain! (and lots of May pictures...)

For the past three weeks, we've been having scary flashbacks to last summer's drought.  At the farm, only a half inch of rain fell during all of May... until this week, when two inches pounded down.  While the rain was a bit rougher on the baby crops than ideal, we are not going to complain!  It's supposed to be tapering off today and tomorrow, and then we hope for some good drying weather so we can get back in the fields, where our crops, cover crops, and pastures are growing like crazy! Weeding and rock-picking the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, and collards).  The white fabric is our insect pest excluding row cover.

Pasture, oats, rye, and windmills--on blustery days, it's all very ripple-y and gorgeous in the wind!

 

The rain brought us a real feeling of relief.  We have the capacity to water all our fields, but it takes a long time--irrigation after a three week dry spell runs to 3 or 4 hours of extra work a day.  This recent rain will basically give us the time equivalent of having an extra person in the field!  Even with irrigation, the crops don't seem to grow quite as well as they do from real, actual rain.  We can already see a jump in growth out of the peas, greens, and broccoli!

Early May pre-rain shot of garlic with baby onions in the background--everything's a lot bigger now!

Third times a charm!  This is one of our pastures where the grass seed just keeps not germinating.  Fortunately, it's starting to come along now (and this rain will help greatly!).

 

We've been laughing a bit because the weather for much of May has been poster child weather for days that you shouldn't transplant crops--dry, hot, and with battering winds.  Yet when plants need to go into the ground, sometimes you have to put them in on these terrible days!  We shifted our schedule to start transplanting around 3 or 4pm many days, and stayed out there to water crops in by flashlight as late as midnight.  Starting late means the plants will get the cool evening to settle into their new homes (and it's often less windy here at night), and watering each newly planted crop heavily helps get the roots to make good contact with the soil (and gives each plant a supply of water for its first few days).  It also leads to groggy farmers in the morning...

Thanks to our great volunteers--John, Mary, and Ben--who helped us plant onions, potatoes, and more.  Thanks too to everyone else who's come out to the farm to help plant these past few weeks!

Heavily watered in baby broccoli (before they get tucked away from flea beetles under their row cover blanket).

 

So far, all of the 2014 strawberry crop is planted, the potatoes are in, and all the spring crops are seeded.  We did lose a couple beds to poor germination (and one to the row cover blowing off one windy afternoon and our nemesis the flea beetles invading the arugula... but more on them next week), but all the transplants that went in under May's non-ideal conditions seem to be doing great!

Even our canine supervisor is dusty.  Pre-rain (and pre-bath) picture...

First working of potato field using a new tillage tool we are borrowing--it breaks up compaction and makes the soil much easier to work!  (Thanks Robert for letting us borrow this!)

Matt working up the potato field with the scarifier.

Wild apples... great for critters and for our fall cider making!  Last year's cold spell destroyed all the blossoms, so we are enjoying their blooms even more this spring.

Happy hens--they are a little obsessed with us so it's hard to get a candid shot (or to move around the field without almost stepping on them!).

 

Early December Photo Gallery

Here's a mix of photos from around the (mostly sleeping) farm on this warm, sunny day!