Wednesday, May 8, 2013


                So, here we are… it is the year 2013. Is it just another year to follow the last? It depends on how one analyzes the situation. As a farmer in the Mid-Atlantic, Mid-Maryland region… absolutely not! To use the often referred to cliché, “What a difference a year makes”.
                At this time in 2012, summer was already upon us. Perennials were at least two weeks ahead of schedule in their seasonal growth. Warm days had been aplenty, in fact, there had been no deep freeze over the winter, which caused some fruit crops to abort… like the peaches, when a late freeze descended upon the farm. Alas. But nonetheless, the early warmth was invigorating and the spring was sufficiently wet enough to have all of the crops thriving at the onset. Then, of course, the rain stopped…
                But that happens every year. I will admit that that last statement is absolutely in error. After about fifteen years of farming, I have witnessed quite an array of different seasons at this point. I keep thinking of Forrest Gump’s statement, only it is a little modified toward the farming situation in spring: “Spring is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” And that has been my experience in most dramatic fashion, especially over the past few years.
                2013’s start has been the coolest I have experienced. Check that. 2013 has been the most elongated cool spring I have experienced. We had a cold spring a couple of years back that quickly leapt into summer. This year the temperature has been rising oh so slowly, which makes me wonder if this is what was once known as a “normal” spring. Nonetheless, and in deference to last year at least, this spring has been rather cool. But what results from the cooler temperatures?
                I remember oh so vividly the spring of 2010. From February 1 through February 10, almost 4 feet of snow fell on our region. Four feet! (Perhaps if you have never had to use a shovel to remove such a huge amount of snow, four feet of snow may not appear astounding. If that is the case, I ASSURE you that that is A LOT OF SNOW!) The main issue that year for my efforts farming is that the snow did not melt until mid-March. Then, on the low land on which I farm, the ground did not dry enough to till until the second week of April. For a vegetable farmer, that is very late. And without getting into the specifics here…
                2013 has been the same as 2010 when it comes to the tilling possibility. By late April, almost all of the plantings were back on schedule. By no means was that easy to coordinate, but, nonetheless, the planting has been done. The MAJOR strange occurrence this year is that, for the most part, we have not experienced the high temperature fluctuations that have been common… over the recent years. We had a three day stint of eighty degree temperature a few weeks back that triggered the grass to grow… fast! Anyone who has to mow grass is surely aware of that. But since then, we have settled into a cooling pattern quite foreign for the region, at least foreign for the years I have been keeping data over the last decade or so.
                So how does the cooler weather affect the farming situation?
                At this point, it is difficult to determine. Personally, I am so used to the temperature swings that I no longer stress myself out over it. And I must admit there has been A LOT of stress to endure over the past decade or so. I have earned a bit of experience over those years, and a large part of that experience was realizing that the climate is DEFINETLY changing, and as a farmer, that is the FACT with which needs to be dealt.
                It has been a lonely experience attempting to grow crops beneath the weather extremes that have been delivered over the past decade or so. One thing I have learned over that time period is that all of us farmers experience the same situation. When one is new to farming, it is easy to suspect that one’s efforts were in error, but after the number of years personally spent farming, and subsequent conversations with fellow farmers, we all go through the same difficulties. That said… 2013?
                I actually have quite a bit of optimism for the beginning of this year’s growing seasons. While all of the crops are not nearly developed to the stage I had planned, the weather has cooperated for the cooler season crops, which simply means those crops will be a little later than normal, but… (perhaps a knock on wood would be appropriate here)… those crops appear to be growing quite well.
                The summer crops are also being planted “on time”, like the tomatoes, beans, etc. The forecast appears conducive to plant the cold intolerant plants as well, like squash and peppers. For whatever reason, the highs and lows have been less extreme than I am used to and I am proceeding as the weather dictates. There is always a possibility for a late frost, but that feels to be a non-issue for this year…
                But what about the rest of the growing seasons? Who knows? I have personally experienced so many out of the ordinary weather extremes over the past years, that is seems quite ludicrous to me to speculate. Here are some examples of those extremes: as mentioned above, four feet of snow in February; a frost AFTER May 15; no rain for multiple months (you pick a couple… June through July, August through September); a 115 degree Fahrenheit day, which has been simply unheard of; tropical storms and hurricanes stalling over the region dropping ten plus inches of rain in a couple of days; six inches of snow in OCTOBER!; Hurricane Sandy…
                That list is by no means exclusive, but it is reflective of what us farmer’s must deal with in our current age. And while the future of such wild climatic fluctuations appears to be even more intense, there is no recourse to give up when it comes to growing the organic food we eat. That is not an option. What is an option is to continue to learn from such extreme situations… and prepare for them in a more scientific and rational method. So, the climate is changing… It is not time to bunker down with doom and gloom, but rather a time to look past our current tormented period in order to steer our food system towards a better and healthier horizon.
                But what am I talking about here? I wish I knew. Actually, I do know. What I am addressing here, and on what will be of focus a few times through these Tales of Idyllia for 2013 is a concept that my eyes first fell upon in 2011. It struck me back then as an interesting idea, but with more investigation and research, has grown into what seems quite clearly the future of farming for our species. And just what is that interesting idea? Post Industrial Agriculture. It is real. It is the future. And there will be much more explanation on that soon to come in these Tales of Idyllia…

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