Did anyone catch that thunderstorm Saturday night? Awesome!
We get asked a lot how the summer is going and if rain is a good thing. As with most questions of this nature, the answer is generally a matter of perspective. The weather of every year offers opportunity and challenge, and that’s part of the fun. Will it be hot? Cool? Wet? Dry? Will it be a potato year? A sweet tomato year? Or maybe this is the year the garlic is out of this world. Life is like a box of chocolates.
The Mid-Atlantic is a unique environment. We have hot, tropical – though on occasion very dry – summers, and we have cold, temperate winters. We have abundant water. We get a lot of bugs. We get a lot of disease. We have older but decent soils of moderate fertility and chemistry. We grow pretty good weeds and our fields want to turn into forests. We have beautiful Spring-time and then summer comes on fast – summer is hot and cool season crops are unhappy. Fall is also pleasant and late and the light changes well before it gets cold and hot season plants kick the bucket. But then some of our fall crops can take the early winter cold and hang on a while before we’re at the bottom of the barrel in February and March. The best and worst of both worlds.
While the general trajectory of a season doesn’t often change much, you never really know what you’re going to get. Weather models and astrological charts may be right eighty percent, but that other twenty percent could be drought, flood, cold, heat… which is one reason to think like a stock broker and diversify the portfolio. Sometimes I wish Marty McFly would come back and given me a 2040 Almanac so I could place bets on the weather for the next twenty-five years. (BTTF4?) With a little heads up we could plan what approach to take with each crop, emphasize the crops that like the particular conditions, even know what to budget for time, labor, disease control, and the like. Instead we plan, then we make new plans, and make new new plans; we manage risk; and we react.
We call a year like the year so far a “jungle year”: hot, humid, near daily rain even if small amounts. This year that means a lot of weeds and increased disease pressure. This translates into more time spent weeding and hoeing, pruning to increase airflow, and more time protecting crops from disease. It also means a lot less sleep – rain in the middle of the night often keeps us up thinking about when we can get the tractor back on the ground. The best practice is to work the ground when dry, or risk damaging the soil, so we often have small or changing windows in which to work. You can see how farming this way can be a logistical adventure.
Which we like. It challenges us physically, emotionally, and intellectually. June can show us what we’re made of. We’ve made it a long way, starting in February and March. April and May are tough, there is a lot of work and few vegetables until we open, and there’s an early season learning curve for everyone. Not easy, and Solstice, which just passed, is a time to celebrate and change. Solstice marks a time to take a fresh look at the summer and fall ahead. We empty the greenhouse and then start filling it again soon with fall seedlings: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, celery, cauliflower, carrots and beets again.