We’ve been writing about the difficult spring weather for months, but just to avoid any confusion, let’s be clear: there will be no CSA distributions for at least a week, and possibly two, due to the extraordinarily cold, wet, slow spring, in addition to the delays we’ve already suffered in trying to get going this year. These conditions represent the worst spring we’ve seen in seven years here, and are quite stressful and disruptive for us and other farmers we know. Here’s a specific look at just how the spring crops are doing so far, and why these conditions are problematic.
We were talking to a roofer friend the other day, griping about the weather together, and he made an important observation. Both roofing and farming are weather-dependent, but the schedules are different. If it pours one day but shines the next, you’re back out on the roof. On a farm, there’s a lag time after excess rain before the soil becomes workable without too much mud or soil damage. So the few sunny, warm days we’ve had this spring have only meant so much, because most have been followed quickly by more excessive rain that reset the soil management clock. We’re willing to work in poor weather, but soil conditions dictate farm work more than farmer comfort. There’s no point in destroying your soil trying to work it before it’s ready, whether by machinery or hand tools.
Soil temperatures are also very important; seeds need a certain threshold temperature to germinate properly, and transplants won’t be happy in too-cold soils either. So again, a few warm days don’t achieve a whole lot when they’re followed by cold, cloudy conditions that cool the ground off again. Our soil temperatures are way behind schedule, and that as much as anything dictates our planting/transplanting schedule as well as the health and growth of whatever plants make it into the ground.
Finally, all these days without sun just plain slow down plant growth. It’s been excessively cloudy for several months now, and young plants need good stretches of sun to photosynthesize properly with their tiny little leaves. We have many plants that simply aren’t growing; one or two days of temporarily pleasant weather will only barely get them going before 4-5 days of cloudy rain set in again.
Crops currently in the ground, not including those still in the greenhouse, include:
Radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, lettuce, chard, fennel, kale, cabbage, mixed greens, peas (snap & snow), scallions, parsnips, potatoes, dill, cilantro, parsley, spinach (overwintered & spring planted), onions (overwintered & spring planted), garlic (overwintered), strawberries (overwintered), asparagus (baby plants for harvests starting in 2015), and various perennials (especially herbs).
That’s a lot of nice potential food for CSA members, but all of these are just sitting there not growing, and probably losing some quality. Most fresh produce tastes best when it grows fast; stasis tends to cause stronger flavors or tougher textures. This is a mounting concern for us, that even when we can finally harvest crops, they may not be up to the quality we expect.
Above left, radishes seeded on April 1st. Above right, mixed greens seeded on March 29. These are both fast-growing crops that should have been ready for harvest already, but are only an inch or so tall despite being over a month old! They’re just sitting there in the mud and the clouds, waiting for spring.
Above left, carrots seeded March 29th. Above right, peas seeded April 3rd. These take a bit longer to mature, but again have been in the ground over a month now with only miniscule development. Especially in the case of peas, this is giving pests like voles far more time to cause damage to the plantings while still young and vulnerable, and it significantly delays the eventual harvest date.
We’re quite relieved we were able to get even one CSA share out the door last week, and that was thanks in large part to our planning & work toward resiliency against bad weather. It felt very good to get some decent produce out there such as this typical full share containing spinach, sweet potatoes, garlic, green onions, chives, and four bundles of herbs:
But there’s only so much we can do when two straight months are well below average temperature and well above average precipitation, along with more cold & rain (just missed the snow in western Missouri) well into May. We write this on May 4 after spending the morning turning compost while bundled up in winter clothing. Numerous other CSA farms we know in the area will be delaying the start of their season for the same reasons, and our members should expect and accept the same.
We still expect to fulfill our obligations, but it’s going to mean a much more stressful May through July as all sorts of spring production, harvest, and work gets pushed back into early summer, already an overwhelmingly busy time. Our greenhouse is overflowing with summer seedlings that need to be transplanted but can’t responsibly be set out under these conditions; we’ll still be picking strawberries when we should be managing tomatoes. We’re also likely to lose the off-day breaks we’d built into the delivery schedule to give ourselves a breather, as we’ll now need to distribute during those weeks to make up for this spring’s delays. Looks like we’ll have to wait another year to fulfill the dream of a mid-summer overnight canoe trip.
So please be patient with us, and hope the weather advances calmly toward warmer, more stable conditions that will allow your food to grow properly. But in the meantime, there will be no CSA shares until the weather starts cooperating. We think we’ve handled the season as well as we could have under the circumstances.