Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Farmers are often among the first people to notice a shift in the climate. So while I rely on scientists for my big-picture information about climate change, I also take seriously the cumulative daily—and yearly—field research of a trusted source: My local CSA (community supported agriculture) farmers, Michael Racette and Patty Wright of Spring Hill Community Farm in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin. They are keen observers of wind, water, air, and soil, living so close to the land that they literally sink their hands into it every day.
Farming has of course always been an uncertain business, due to the naturally variable whims of weather, but lately it’s more uncertain than ever—some would even call it wildly unpredictable. Here’s what’s happening in the furrows as reported by Patty in this season’s Spring Hill newsletters:
Sometimes rain is a lovely thing, sometimes it’s not. Last Friday we had about half an inch of rain. It made harvest not very pleasant or pretty, but we appreciated it knowing we were in for a blast of heat over the next week. Then there was Saturday morning. Very early Saturday morning we woke up to thunder and lightning and heavy, heavy rains. When we went out to take a look there was over four inches of rain in the gauge. Our little stream had become something of a river and we were unable to cross it. Our plan to pick peas with the members who were to arrive shortly was curtailed when we sank up to our ankles in mud. Plans to pick cilantro were changed to basil from the hoophouse when we saw the flattened cilantro.
It’s been a big week at the farm, a big week of crazy weather and a big week of garlic harvest. After that most amazing four-inch-plus rain, we were blasted with heat. … We had hoped to finish [the garlic harvest] last Saturday but just as people arrived to help with the harvest day, so did the rain. We got over an inch that morning and then another inch and a quarter Saturday evening. Thankfully we’ve managed to escape damaging winds and hail and we all survived the brutal heat. I know there’s crazy weather every year but this year seems record breaking on way too many fronts.
Rain, heat, mosquitoes! The working conditions of late have not been ideal. We’ve gotten well over ten inches of rain over the last couple of weeks and it’s raining again as I write. The ground is saturated making it impossible to get in and do some of the work we’d like to be doing.
We are starting to see some of the effects of extended hot weather along with all the rain.
Last Tuesday, Mike and I went out to harvest the eggplant. We were able to pick about 75-80 nice eggplant—and that was it. There would be no eggplant for Saturday’s delivery and none in the foreseeable future. The plants have no more eggplant of any size. Peppers are equally puzzling. Some have a decent fruit set, others a couple of big ones and nothing else. Our poblano peppers have no fruit. While it’s true that peppers and eggplant both are heat loving plants, they’re rather particular about the temperature while they’re blossoming. In fact, they’ll drop their blossoms if the daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees and/or if nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees. Beans, it turns out, are equally sensitive. Our first bean planting produced just fine. Our second planting, however, setting its blossoms during that heat spell, is not producing well at all. We’re taking a week (maybe two) off of beans. Hopefully we’ll have some after that. The bees, so important for pollination, also take a vacation when it gets hot. We’ve noticed the effects of that in our zucchini and cucumber patches. Potatoes, we’ve learned, go into a stage of dormancy when it gets too warm.
If this year is any indication, farming in this time of climate change is going to be challenging. While one certainly can’t plan for unpredictability, we’re trying to think about what we ought to be doing as extreme weather patterns become more common.
Source: Spring Hill Community Farm