Early Summer 2018 Newsletter

Riverbend farm Early Summer Newsletter May 24, 2018

I wrote this this morning and ran out of time to send it out before diving into my day. It started raining as Logan and I were setting up irrigation. So far we have received 0.07”, pushing us over ½” since the middle of April. And it looks like we are going to get more rain shortly. That does not change much of what wrote this morning. If we don’t get an inch of rain I’m still going to water before we set out the tomatoes.

The birds are back. The hummingbirds were in the apple blossoms. The oriels are zooming around doing what ever they do beside build crazy nests. The chickens are loving life. They have trees to hide under, bugs to eat, sun and dust. A safe place to stay at night. What more could a chicken want ? They produce 2 to 6 eggs a day. Counting what they get fed in the winter these are the most expensive eggs ever. But the yolks are seriously orange and they taste like eggs. A real luxury.

It is so dry that the weeds are wilting. We have had less than ½” (0.48”) of rain since the big snow in mid April. The winter planted carrot experiment was a failure this year. It never rained once the ground warmed up enough for them to germinate. The really sandy parts of the field are powder dry. Even the clay soils, where it is always touch and go because they stay wet to long, are dry. The wet spot at the end of the south field was the only area where there was a normal amount of moisture in the soil. Temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s only make the situation worse. A 90° day takes about 1/3” of water out of the soil.

We need an inch of rain per week to keep up with our moisture needs. Averages are meaningless. One 4” rain a month is not the same. In the old normal climate pattern we would get that and then some in April and May. By June it would dry out a little and July and August could have a short dry spell. When we started this 25 years ago we did not have any field scale irrigation because we didn’t need it.

The changing climate is affecting my crop rotation. The weather went from Winter directly to Summer this year. Without the spring rains my rye cover crop is less than half as tall us it would normally be at this time. Many years the rye was over the hood of the tractor (~5’ ) when it was plowed under at this time of year. This year it is only 18”-24” tall. The lack of plant material cuts down the amount of organic matter that gets incorporated into the soil. With our sandy soil, organic matter is the component that holds water and nutrients. Without lush cover crops to maintain soil fertility I will have to change my farming system.

The real issue is that the climate is changing in easily foreseeable long term but unpredictable short term ways. Not to venture too far into politics but it is odd that party affiliation seems to be a reliable indicator of acceptance of science. Which is not to say that either political party had the will to do what was really needed to prevent large scale climate disruption.

No matter what anyone believes about global warming, I can’t see how it makes any sense to keep adding carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) to the atmosphere. It has been known for quite some time that when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging.

Climate change has been known about since the early 1980s. With the AMOC ( Gulf Stream) slowing, the polar ice melting, stable loops in the jet stream, etc., etc. it appears that we could be near or past a tipping point in climate change. Passing a tipping point means that adding CO2 to the atmosphere is not the big driver of global warmingr anymore. Changes to the physical planet take over as the driver of climate change. That would be very bad news.

The only way to cut down the amount of CO2 going into the air is to cut down on the amount of fossil energy used world wide. Individually I’m guessing that we are all doing our bit. Really, it is up to people like us to make meaningful changes that will impact the rate of climate change. Our grandkids are going to have to live with the effects much longer that us.

Unfortunately, it will take a reduction on a global scale. At this point the required reduction in fossil energy use will crash the global consumer / growth economy It is pretty clear why no political party has had the determination to do that. Knowing that does not do anything to change my opinion of short sighted self serving politicians.

There is actually an up side to the dry weather. Mosquitoes have been conspicuously absent. A real blessing.

The other good news is that there is a chance of rain tonight ( we have had a very useful 0.4” so far today ). But I’m going to water anyway. We have a crop mob on Saturday to plant tomatoes. With a fair chance for a record high temperature the little plants will dry out in a few hours even if we water when we set them out.

If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday come to the crop mob and help us plant tomatoes. It usually runs from 10 until about 2 but we will get done quicker if we get a bunch of people to help out. One thing – if you are coming, please check in at the Birchwood website (https://www.birchwoodcafe.com/event/riverbend-farm-crop-mob/ ) because they provide lunch and an accurate head count cuts down on food waste.

We ( Kathy, Logan, Rachelle, me and Mary ) have been busy in the greenhouse getting veggie starts ready for plant sales. Plant sales have been good this year. I’m hopeful that people are getting back into gardening and discovering how good ripe, fresh food can taste. Besides working in the greenhouse we have three successions of greens and radishes direct seeded, a quarter acre of summer cabbage, kale and lettuce planted and have been keeping up on hoeing and watering. They are a good crew, not a ton of experience but hard workers.

Kind of a downbeat newsletter, but that is what is happening on the farm and what I’m thinking about.