October 7-13, 2019
Welcome to newcomers in the Elmwood Fall 2019 CSA shareholder program, and howdy to summer season folks. What we just came through is the longest dry spell since humans started writing it down every day here in the Central Bluegrass. Add in the warmest, no hottest, September since meteorology became somebody’s job and we get a double whammy. Seriously, I am not making it up. Such records raise the bar on what it means to be a farmer of food in conditions the likes of which have never been seen around here, and I think it is worthy of a little discussion.
First, 2019 at a glance. At the farm it was worrisome wet through winter, just like last year, then spring brought dry spells affording us windows of time to plow and plant. In early to middle summer, rain set back in saturating the fields, and forcing some key planting dates to be delayed, and making weed cultivation challenging. Late summer was hot and dry like it is supposed to be, except it continued until early October! The fall rains and cooler temps never happened in September as expected. Actually, not until a cold front from the northwest pushed out a blocking high last Friday, and bringing thirst quenching rains with it, did we get relief from the grip of drought this past weekend. What a difference three-plus inches of water makes!
Those of you picking up your share at the farm witnessed the pastures ease from verdant green to somewhat blue to brown and yellow through September. As the soil dries out in conditions like this, each species of plant (and bacteria/ fungi/ insect/ mammal) goes into pre-programmed dormancy mode as a survival mechanism. Respiration slows, sugars are retained, cell walls encapsulate as each species hits its limit of desiccation. Forage essentially becomes standing hay. Annuals will actually speed up their maturation process in their seasonal sprint to reproduce. A big concern, still, is will we get the traditional flush of forage in the fall that comes with cooler weather?
Cattle and sheep don’t really care about the moisture content of the daily rations, it just affects how much water they drink. But, access to shade and water is critical. Pastures are greening up nicely, and the forecast is favorable for October to have relatively moderate temperatures, which will hopefully give pastures time to recover going into the throes of whatever winter brings. We rely on our stockpiled grass pastures for fall grazing, and if they completely dry up, we will have to start feeding hay earlier than desired, and then who knows how long until spring.
Those picking up their share at the farm also may have noticed patches of bright green in the landscape. All of our irrigation systems have run night and day throughout September, to keep the produce hydrated, allow fall crops to germinate, and keep plants alive. The crop fields are laid out in grids or zones that can be watered with our various systems that are planned for the plant needs of different crops. As our big pump only has so much capacity, we turn valves and reconfigure hoses twice daily, and move equipment around the farm to deliver an inch or so of water as indicated. It was necessary to irrigate the soil just to till for seeding, then irrigate again just to get the seeds to germinate, then irrigate again to boost plant growth and fruit set. In between, time the irrigation traveling sprinkler moved to other fields that had the same needs, and then moved back. The plants did truly seem confused with the shorter days, a bit cooler in the mornings, but then blazing heat all afternoon. With such extreme conditions, the plants still thirsted for more, especially the cool season veggies we equate with fall.
It became necessary to limit the number of shares we were comfortable offering given the conditions we were suffering in mid-September, with little forecast for relief. Now, we are seeing that the spaghetti and butternut squash had enough water to fill out nicely, yet have a firm skin for long shelf life, thanks to the hot dry conditions. The sweet potatoes we have dug up for inspection clearly show they would have liked more water, as they are much smaller than normal. We are holding off on digging them to get all the size we can. Patience is a virtue I am told, as they are one of my favorite vegetables. The spinaches and lettuces are truly unhappy, yet we expect them to rebound quickly with the seasonally appropriate temperatures. Carrots and beets toughed it out, and we’ll have to see how they respond having suffered through such harsh conditions. Kale, broccoli, and cabbages showed accelerated growth, and are ripening in a funny pattern rather than all together. The high tunnel plantings of greens are on schedule for late fall and winter. All in all, I am feeling pretty good about how the crops seem to be coming along.
Optimism reigns supreme having been subjected to unprecedented living conditions out here on the banks of the Elkhorn. We will know more in a few weeks, but it sure feels a lot better now. The smell of wet leaves never seemed sweeter than this past Monday morning. The cattle and sheep can graze more freely, the soil food web is awakening from its dormancy to enrich the plants that enrich us. This period was one for the record books, and we appreciate even more the importance of our work as food farmers: to rear animals and tend crops, and to feed people that depend on us for nourishment. Thanks for your support and kind words as we tell future generations about September of ‘19. – Mac Stone
In Your Share
- Cabbage, Savoy
- Chard, Rainbow
- Kale, Curly
- Salad Mix
- Squash, Honeynut
- Squash, Butternut
- Squash, Spaghetti
- Tomatoes, Colorful
- Tomatoes, Salad
Check out our Pinterest board for this week’s recipes!