The Mother of All Fickle

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By Paul Muller of  Full Belly Farm, courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop

For Old Timers around here, their world of memory and recollections about oddball weather events embodies a skill that is part genius and part B.S. When I say that this has been a most unusual year, they can point to the floods of ’89, the heatwave of May ’52, or the time that the sun dropped from the sky, and when they picked it up (mostly out of curiosity) and stuck it into their overalls, it proceeded to burn a hole in the back pocket and was only extinguished when a passing raincloud dumped four feet of cats and dogs and the ensuing chaos, fur, snarl, spit and hiss scared that sun right back up into its place - that was June ’38 or ’39 and they never did fix that hole”¦

I am afflicted with a rather sketchy memory and I mostly have to defer to those for whom yesteryear is clear as a bell, whereas my ”˜just yesterday’ needs me to think real hard about what exactly I was doin'”¦

Well in my memory, in the history of the Full Belly, about 30 or so years here and then another 14 or so in the general area, I cannot recall a year when there were still collards, kale, broccoli’s, beets and all sorts of greens that were the farm’s production at the end of June”¦Many of you have asked what gives? Where is the Summer fruit, melons, tomatoes, peppers and okra (for you okra lovers)? We are right there with you scratching our heads and checking the fields for the summer cornucopia. We are craving the tomato platter and eggplant’s baba ghanoush — but we live, you see, by the fickle nature of the turn of Nature and this year has been the mother of all fickle.

Now, the calendar indicates the start of summer”¦ we are into it. July usually means that we have bid a welcome goodbye to the hard C vegetables: Cabbage, kale, chard, collards, cut greens or carrots. They have been around far too long and they require a good deal of time around a hot stove in a kitchen. By this time of year, the kitchen should be moved outdoors where the Tofu is sizzling on the grill. Usually the hard C crops have become sheep food and those fields are into the next phase - cover crops or fields for late peppers, winter squash or corn. The transition usually happens seamlessly and pretty much on schedule. Usually, by late May the warm weather has ushered those C’s into the memory of winter and spring meals. So in case your memory is as feeble as mine, we can take a quick tour through the first 6 months of 2011.

January started things off by impersonating April. Mild daytime temps, cold nights and the driest weather since 1849. We had no rainfall in January”¦normally our wettest month of the year. By the end of the month the peaches, apricots and almonds had buds swelling and popping out in a type of confusion that a warm January can create. We transplanted broccoli and seeded potatoes and other greens because the soil was dry and workable. We even tilled in some cover crops — something never done in January. At that point, when things are so warm, a farmer doesn’t know if the rest of the spring will follow January’s lead or will revert to normal patterns - so a good plan is to hedge by planting and ignoring the calendar.

We got that wrong. February turned very cold and very wet. The seeds we planted were greeted by pelting rain. They stayed ungerminated for most of the month. Soils that were perfect in January turned waterlogged and cold, so we had a month of suspended growth. The few peach trees filled with glorious pink buds stayed in full bloom for a whole month, most confusing!

March brought more wet and cold. Peach trees struggled to find dry days to set fruit, leading to a dismal fruit set for most stone fruit and almonds. April suddenly turned off the water, a trace of rain and no more. We planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, melons and squash during clear April days. While our greens were thriving headed into May, the summer crops that we planted in April were struggling. Soil temperatures were simply too cold for these temperature-sensitive crops. We replanted a number of fields. Rich, who supervises the planting and plans ahead to keep the crops coming, lost 10 pounds and a lot of hair as the calendar schedule for planting was a green light but seeds struggled to emerge and thrive.

A cold wet month of May was followed by a temperate June. Summer crops were finally starting to grow with warmer days, but average temperatures were way down. The last week of June was a crowning example of fickle. We had 1.5 inches of rain and cold that was perfect for the last of the C’s and a good foundation for recollections of future old timers.

So summer is trickling in”¦ a few eggplants, some green beans, the first cherry tomatoes, a few apricots. All-in-all things are about 2-3 weeks later than our expectations. The Hot weather should bring on the tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant and maybe a bit of corn. Melons will not make an appearance until mid July. Some varieties of fruit set well and others were a complete wash. We have the ability to roll even with fickle seasons. The design of the farm was set to balance risk through diversity of production, yet each year tests even the best of plans. So we will enjoy it together as the first of the summer crops start to appear in your boxes. Thanks for your patience, and we hope that you will enjoy Summer this year well into November.


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