Learning to understand and predict local weather is a really important skill for properly managing our diversified farm. There are so many ways that weather conditions can hinder or help our work, and general forecasts don’t always cover what we need to know. Case in point, predicting when we’re going to have a frost in our valley regardless of whether it’s regionally expected.This skill can mean the difference between significant crop loss and success at extending/completing our growing season. You’d never know it from the muggy, high-80s conditions this week, but we saw last week’s three nights of frost coming. Continue reading
Spring has finally arrived in our valley, and with vigor. In just the past week of warm weather, an intense flush of green growth has invigorated the grasses, weeds and wildflowers everywhere we look. Lots of spring birds are arriving, while a diverse chorus of frogs provides background ambiance. The very slow start to spring pushed our outdoor work far behind as we waited for the soil to dry & warm. Finally, last week’s dry spell allowed us to undertake a marathon week of bed prep, seeding, transplanting, and more, exhausting ourselves thoroughly while enjoying finally moving forward with the growing season. This important work was cut off by the recent swath of strong storms which dumped over 2″ of rain, very heavy at times, and caused various problems with flooding and erosion (with minimal problems in the growing area, but roads especially aren’t pretty). And, of course, this once again slows down our planting & seeding plans while we wait for things to dry out. We could really use a nice, long stretch of pleasant weather, however unlikely that is in a typical Missouri April (the upcoming forecast has repeated rounds of rain again). Read on for some photos of early spring on the farm, and a glimpse of the first new crops of the year. Continue reading
We could not imagine two months much different than March of 2012 and 2013. Last year we basically had May in March, getting the natural & growing season off to a worryingly early start. Now the opposite is true; it stayed so cold and snowbound most of the month that we’re as far behind now as we were ahead in 2012. Compare the two monthly temperature graphs below for March 2012 and 2013 in Columbia, from the National Weather Service. The average high for March 2013 (47.5 F) was lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4 F); for reference the normal average is 55.3 (high) & 34 (low). The paired photos in this post also vividly demonstrate the difference.
It’s hard to imagine a more striking contrast in weather conditions than the springs of 2012 and 2013 here. Last year, spring came absurdly, worryingly early and forced us into an unexpectedly quick start to the growing season, distributing CSA share #2 weeks before we expected. This year, three strong winter storms within a month have shut down our progress toward spring preparations and planting, and will delay the 2013 CSA season as much as last year accelerated it. To date, the average high for March 2013 (46ºF with a few days to go in the month) is lower than the average low for March 2012 (48.4ºF). To illustrate these wild swings in weather & growing conditions, here are two sequences of photographs from the two years, taken at the same locations within a day of each other. Continue reading
Two strong winter storms over the past week offer an excellent chance to examine how a farm like ours can both benefit and suffer from winter weather. While these storms created a variety of problems for us, our long-term focus on diversification and self-sufficiency in both business and personal life really paid off under these conditions. Here’s a look at what happened, and how it’ll affect us in both the short and long term. Continue reading
As of July 17th, our portion of central Missouri is now officially in “extreme drought“. The National Weather Service expects most of the Midwest’s drought to “persist or intensify” through October. All of Missouri has now been declared a “disaster area“, with lots of hands being wrung about the real and potential crop losses for corn & soy farmers. Of course, very little attention is being paid to the state of things on other kinds of farms, like local dairies, orchards, and vegetable farms. So here’s a visual tour of the conditions on our farm, all photos taken July 18. It may surprise some folks how good many things look, and this is something to consider when reading about all the financial support given to commodity farms while the work it takes to achieve our relative stability & success is ignored by the government. This post certainly won’t cover everything we have planted, but it gives a good sense of the overall vegetable status, leaving out our pastures which are in far worse shape (but still somewhat greener than many that we’ve seen in the region). And we’re increasingly worried we’re reaching a tipping point where things really do start to go downhill regardless of our efforts. Continue reading
We have not received meaningful rain since the beginning of May, which was officially the 3rd-driest and 4th-warmest on record (since 1890) as measured at the Columbia airport. Although the short-term conditions have been mostly great for vegetable production, long-term this is a real problem as irrigation costs undercut our budget, pastures suffer, and later produce struggles because irrigation just isn’t as widely effective as proper natural rainfall. On the bright side, far fewer weeds than usual have been able to germinate in the dry conditions, so the weed load is relatively light for this time of year, and in general we prefer dry to overly wet conditions. Here’s a closer look at the drought we’re entering or already in depending on your viewpoint, and its ramifications.
Weather and crop management will always be inextricably linked; this has been especially true in the screwy recent weather patterns. As we transition, at least temporarily, from record spring warmth to a series of seasonal frosts/freezes, here’s a discussion of how weather considerations have affected both short- and long-term planning on the farm this spring.
We made some choices on what to protect and what to let go. Our tomato plants are mostly lush and healthy, but some recovered better than others from the August heat wave that stopped all flowering and fruiting for a while. The southern end of the main tomato rows, to the right in the photo above, look nice but have almost no fruit on them. The northern end is loaded with green fruit we hope can still ripen, so we focused our efforts on covering those and left the others open; they won’t be doing much more anyway. You can see various row cover fabrics and cheap sheets covering the better tomatoes in the middle distance (row cover at back is over cabbages and greens for insect protection, not frost). In this photo, too, you can clearly see frost extending across the area.