Wednesday, March 14, 2012

winter-spring-summer? what time of year is it again?

People ask me a lot lately, how does this crazy weather we've been having affect farmers? My response is always, "I don't really know." I haven't been farming long enough to know. My fourth-generation farming neighbor Jack says he can't remember a winter like this. Major climate change is certainly upon us, and will only get crazier in our lifetimes, I do believe.

A warm winter will likely mean that the populations of bugs, bacteria, fungi, and other critters that like to munch vegetables stay strong and don't get killed off by deep freezes. That means more competition for us, who also love vegetables. Farmers this summer will probably rely heavily on their arsenals of sprays-- organic farmers definitely have access to a wide range of organically-certified pesticides.

I have always been personally disinterested in spraying anything at all, believing that with careful planning and crop rotation, attention to soil health, correct timing, sufficient irrigation, etc. I can maintain a preventative health program for the crops. Besides, I only have a small backpack sprayer, and it is a lot of work to manage six acres of vegetables with this labor-intensive tool. And organic sprays cost a fortune, and some are arguably ineffective.

I have no idea how this season will play out. One can only expect more surprises, like last year's cold, wet spring, 5-week long drought in July, and early fall Hurricane. This summer I may have to ask CSA members to forgive us if there are more holes in the arugula, or if the broccoli crop fails (it's very sensitive to temperature swings). That's why I grow 5o different kinds of crops, with several varieties of each crop. We hedge our bets. No matter what the weather, something will do well. We may just have to learn to modify our diets a bit more, accepting what's really in season for this particular year!

In the meantime, though, I'm enjoying the thaw... getting out to take hikes and play some tennis, (even on courts that don't have nets this time of year), to quell my eager anxious energy to Plow Plow Plow and Plant Plant Plant. It is definitely too early to do any of that yet, even though this warmth awakens the urge real bad.

The greenhouse will start up in a few days, stop by and see me if you're in Victor town.


John Lam said...

Never mind the recently revised plant hardiness zone i mentioned, With El NiƱo so strong this year. Instead, note the one-month outlook for April, released just today, and the 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center.

I wonder how many farmers might bet against an early frost and plant early for an early jump into the market before other farmers have anything to sell. As a subscription farm, though, i guess you need not take that risk.

RG Mich said...

Climate change...yes, the climate does change. :)

Last winter was horrible, so we should be thankful for a longer growing season this year in scenic Western NY!