With every new farming year there is a “new” weather event that adds to the challenges of producing the healthy organic produce that tastes… sooo good. Actually, in some years there are many “new” weather events with which to deal. Nonetheless, over the last decade, every farming season has seemed to be more like one spent in a gambling casino then under the somewhat predictable skies of nature.
That said, 2013 arrived in a typically most peculiar manner. The main weather oddity that arrived at the very beginning of 2013 was wind. There are times every year when high winds present difficulties for us farmers, but for the beginning of 2013, the wind was relentless. It seemed as though every time some outside activity was planned, twenty mile an hour plus wind accosted the farm. In case one is not aware of twenty mile per hour wind, it is somewhat akin to attempting to build a house of cards in front of a high speed fan. I am not sure if that is an accurate assessment, but it surely felt like that. The reality for the farmer is that many aspects of farming activity relies on somewhat placid air movement, and that was simply not the case this past winter.
And the wind did not stop. Through March and into April the wind still blew at an excessive level, quite unprecedented for our area. I remember thinking… and I still think that I hope this is not a new development we should expect every year from now on. That is a very bad thought for me. But, when it comes to the weather… who knows what will happen in the future?
So the wind blew. It really did not affect the planting and such, other than that it was quite annoying. For example, seeding the carrots was quite an ordeal. To explain, I still have not found a planting device/machine that works accurately, which means that I hand seed the carrot rows. My seeding style is a sort of toss seeding, which is too difficult to explain… but it works. Anyway, when one is accosted by twenty plus mile per hour wind, tossing the extremely light carrot seeds into a straight row is veritably impossible. But that was what was attempted. Now, well over a month after those seedings, the rows look like… well, they do not look like rows. Carrots are seemingly strewn about as random as… I don’t know… rain drops? There are some carrots here… and some over there… and it makes cultivation quite a task indeed.
Up until this point, this entry has focused on the high speed winds early in the season. The real issue of this entry is that of the high wind at the second Downtown Westminster Saturday Farmer’s Market on May 25, 2013. As flippant as I usually attempt to be in these Tales of Idyllia, that day has raised my concern over the changing climate to an extreme degree, but I shall explain.
On Friday, harvest day, May 24, the wind was relentless. The temperature high was in the mid 60s which is quite cold for the season, and the low, likewise quite cold was in the 40s. But there was a difference. I have suspicions and speculations about what occurred, but I am by no means certain about why those winds had such a detrimental effect on the farm. Essentially, “wind” became an enemy to organic vegetable production on a level never before encountered. How to explain this?
While we harvested salad greens and such, the wind seemingly pummeled us, I mean PUMMELED us, much like it has this entire year so far. As a farmer, you must deal with the elements. That is simply how it works. However, the striking contrast through that late May wind, was how it affected the transplants on the tables by the greenhouses. Again, how does one explain that which has never been experienced before? The melon plants along with many other plants… and I actually have pictures of the okra… were significantly damaged by that wind.
(The leaf in the center had been “burned”, at least that is how it appears…)
(Here the damage is much more evident with the dying outer leaves…)
I will pause here to state that for someone who nurtures healthy organic plants, and has done so for well over a decade… such damage should not happen to such similar plants due to a wind storm. The damage to the leaves was quite apparent. Whatever was involved in the process of those high winds, it was causing those plants to wither! Wind…death… what the… is going on?!?
I dwelled on this issue for quite a while. Why would high winds cause plants to wilt? There are many possibilities, and to go through those here would be exhaustive, and not at all conducive to the point of this entry. And what is that point? I wish I had an answer… and so do the other farmers that had stands full of transplants at the Saturday morning farmer’s market on May 25.
My van pulled up into its spot at the market on time, amazingly, on May 25. A few tents were witnessed in the market, which I thought was quite brazen due to the relentless wind. I quickly went to the Thorne Farm booth, which is next to mine and asked, “Is there really any reason to put up a canopy?” Both Kris and Greg answered in the negative and that was all that was needed to guide my wise decision to not erect the canopy that would surely blow away on such a windy morning.
Over the four hours of that farmer’s market, the wind blew relentlessly. And as those hours fell by, more and more plants withered and drooped. It was quite shocking to me. Yes, I had witnessed it the day before, but across the parking lot that day, plants that should otherwise be healthy, were significantly damaged by the wind. It affected us all.
Why was that wind damaging the transplants, specifically the warmer season plants? Again, there are many suspicions and speculations that I have that are not provable by any means at the moment. Rather than stir up any needless hysteria, I will keep them logged silently in my own data bank. Perhaps, at some point, a more scientific assessment can be reached, but until then… personally, I am extremely dismayed.
Once I returned to the farm that day, I inspected the crops for similar damage as that witnessed on the transplants. Most crops seemed to weather the wind admirably. However, a few did not. The okra and peanuts were significantly damaged, but those plants had just been set out a day or so before. There were also two rows of beans that I had not been able to cover with row cover at that point. (Beans are covered with row cover to prevent Mexican bean beetles from laying eggs on the underside of their leaves.) What I witnessed with those two rows was alarming to say the least…
By comparison, here is a picture of “normal” beans.
The wind caused the leaves of the bean plants to die. ONCE AGAIN, how is it that the wind can cause bean leaves to die? This is a VERY new development, and my cause for concern is that as the climate changes… rapidly… what are we in store for next?
I do not wish to sound afraid in this entry, for that is far from the case. The point for me is that the climate is changing, and VERY rapidly. There are many things that we can do about it. It would help greatly if the GOVERNMENT, that is ALL bodies of the government, would acknowledge that climate change is real… AND WOULD DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
From this farmer’s eyes, row covers and other protection can avert some of the ordeals, but it definitely requires a proactive approach to farming… and more expense. That said, plants tend toward survival. When extreme weather afflicts crops, they tend to adapt quite admirably to the situation, so long as the extreme is not such that the plants die. Here is another picture of the wind tortured beans.
The larger outer leaves have withered and died, and yet the youngest inner leaf shows no damage from the wind. The resiliency of these plants is amazing! Now, weeks after that intense, and extremely odd wind storm, the bean plants have rebounded and appear to be doing quite well. For at least THIS latest weather extreme, these plants have survived…
This leads to the conclusion of this entry, where I would love to leave the reader with some humorous snippet or such. Unfortunately, none jumps to mind at the moment. I am not a person who thrives or hides from fear. It is simply not in my genetic wiring. Nonetheless, I am a person who strongly adheres to science, that seldom believed “reality” that falls second to the non-reality of “belief”… Oops, well, that is as close as I get to humor in this entry.
The simple fact for me as a farmer is that the climate is changing and EXTREMELY rapidly. It is one thing to witness a “super-sized” hurricane descend upon the northeast Atlantic coast of America, and a two mile wide tornado decimate Oklahoma, but it is quite a new chapter that has opened in my scientific view of things, when wind decimates healthy crops in late May in the Mid-Atlantic growing region. NEW climate situations are arising. I wish I could foretell the future… I cannot. But if the immediate, immediate recent history reveals anything… we are in for quite a ride…