It’s been a mild fall so far after the record-breaking hot and dry summer. This mild weather may persist well into November and beyond according to the Climate Prediction Center (CPC). The forecast is for warmer weather and drier conditions are expected for the rest of 2015 and well into 2016. El Nino is developing strong at a record level and becoming “super” El Nino. We usually see an early frost here in the valley by now, but we have not seen any sign of frost at all so far, which is another indication of this year’s “mild” fall. However, the season has definitely shifted as daylight gets shorter.
Fall/October is also the time when some seasonal growers and farmers markets come to a close. But, some farmers and winter markets continue to offer locally grown produce. Here at 21 Acres, we stretch our farm season into November. In the fields, we still have fall/winter greens and root crops sustaining healthy and looking good….lettuce, carrots, beets, leeks, fall greens (kale, chard, spinach, mustard, mizuna, komatsuna, yukina). Some of the fall greens get even sweeter after frost and root crops store well for winter. The good news is the ground hasn’t gotten too boggy yet, thanks to the mild and not so soggy weather.
We just finished our season’s last planting this week….garlic. The five varieties (soft/hard neck) panted are Chesnok Red, Spanish Roja, Silver White, Inchelium and Elephant. This year’s yield/quality of our garlic was excellent, so finger crossed for the garlic harvest in 2016. If you are a garlic lover, you can still grow your own garlic by planting now so that you’ll be able to harvest your own garlic next year. Winter cover crop (Merced rye) has been planted in most of the fields except those beds of the ongoing fall crops. The mild temperature with moderate precipitation is also helping cover crop to grow much better. We normally experience a low germination rate of cover crop particularly in Field 3 (most boggy site on the farm during fall/winter/spring) due to rain and cold temperature, but this time is different. Cover crop is growing like a lush green wild fire in this mild weather.
Sweet potato…..our first trial of growing sweet potatoes was a success…..well, sort of. Most of them produced a small size, but they are amazingly sweet and flavorful. As a rule of thumb for a good yield of sweet potatoes, the soil temperature needs to be kept above 70 to 80 degrees day and night. Black plastic mulch is often used to keep the soil warm at night, but our sweet potatoes were grown without using black plastic mulch. Why? It is our principle that we consciously farm with carbon footprint factors in mind: plastic = petroleum. Hence, we don’t utilize plastic mulch for crop production at 21 Acres. At least, this summer’s heat waves naturally helped some growth of sweet potatoes, however.
We had the annual inspection for organic certification this month. This is the fifth year since the farm became Certified Organic. Once a farm becomes Certified Organic, organic certification is an ongoing process every year. Besides growing food in compliance with the National Organic Program standards, we are required to keep all the production/sales records for annual inspection and document farming practices as an organic producer. By the way, we recently conducted a water quality test for our well (irrigation) water. We tested it for E.coli, fecal and total Coliform and the test result said the pathogens were “not detected.” We also checked arsenic and nitrate/nitrite in well water. Nitrate/nitrite were not detected. Arsenic was detected slightly higher than state reporting level, but we are not required to report to DOH (Department of Health) because we use well water for irrigation purpose only and not for drinking. Interestingly, according to the lab, arsenic is generally detected higher in well water in Woodinville, Duvall and Carnation area, whereas in Bothell and Bellevue there is no detectable arsenic in groundwater and North Bend/Preston’s well water contains three times more arsenic than Woodinville. To speak of arsenic, here’s additional information on arsenic and environment in the Puget Sound area. We continue to monitor well water quality as well as heavy metals in the soils which I talked about in my previous farm update.
Fall is a great time for comfort food. Check out our retail market for all the good stuff grown locally so that you can keep eating healthy throughout this fall and winter. Happy Halloween!
You can follow this farm update in pictures here.
Fall is in the air! Crisp air and shorter daylight clearly indicate the season’s shift. Frankly, this change of the weather is such a relief after the unusually hot and dry summer/drought we had for the last few months non-stop. No more fight for water….at least for now. The rain we have received at the beginning of September certainly rejuvenated soils….and our spirit. In fact, the ground is still moist! Earthworms we didn’t see in the soils during the dry summer days are back now while they dug deeper into the ground where it was moister when conditions were dry. This summer was quite a challenging growing season; and yet, it was another learning curve….perseverance and faith in “nature at work” after all the labor we put in. (more…)
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” (Thomas Fuller)
Nearly 15 years farming in the valley, I had never experienced such a desperate need of water/watering for growing food. The much anticipated rainfall we received about a week ago was just a brief relief, and didn’t do much to quench the thirsty ground. Many areas on the farm are still bone dry. Normally, soils in our fields retain some moisture even in early/mid-summer, but that’s not the case this year due to the abnormally hot and dry spell we’ve been having since May and June. We all know summery weather usually doesn’t arrive in the region until around July 4th, but, this year the unusually warm/dry weather started in spring, on top of this winter’s low snow pack.
We are not the only farm in such an extreme dry condition, however. There are many other local farmers who are in the same boat, or even worse coping with the drought. We’ve been watering almost everyday (but not every crop, every day) since June except the last week when more normal weather briefly returned (temps were back to 70’s with sunshine and clouds). There are a few key elements we always assess when/before we water: 1) How much water our crops need. 2) How much water our watering methods apply. 3) How much water is shared among the users per water pump capacity and water limit/day. 4) How to balance water use between 1) 2) and 3). We rotate the watering schedule weekly and assess/prioritize daily which crops need water first/more/less/none based on the crops condition/growth (how they look and how the rooting system is established – deep/shallow) and how dry the ground is (surface dry/one inch, two inch, three inch deep or deeper). Other factors we consider for watering are the timing of a crop’s harvest, crop’s life span, crop’s maturity (newly transplanted crop needs frequent watering to establish rooting system and direct seeding requires water for the seed to germinate), soil characteristic/condition and water permeability (silty loam, sandy, clayish, muddy), watering method (we use drip irrigation, overhead sprinkler, hand water, furrow irrigation), weed condition (weediness can be advantage/disadvantage) and real-time weather condition/forecast. Out in the field, we assess these factors so that watering can be done timely, efficiently, practically and hopefully without much waste. In addition, we face the limit of water use at 5,000 gallon per day, as well as cope with the water pump’s pumping ability since we share the same well with other gardeners on site.
Overall however, we’ve been managing our water situation with rationale, not with “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” (Mark Twain). We are already reducing and/or quitting watering some crops such as summer/winter squash, pumpkins, onions/leeks and hardy greens (chard, kale, spinach) based on their growth/maturity and the timing of harvest in order to conserve water. We are also experimenting a solar powered timer for irrigation so that some crops can be watered at night and/or during the least constraint hours of the water use among all the gardeners, which hopefully results in more efficient watering compared to watering during the day. However, we have to carefully evaluate and apply night-time watering as it can potentially trigger some negative impacts such as disease and pests. As we use row cover for most of the crops we grow in the field, elevated moisture by watering at night could pose some risk to plants such as mold/mildew/bottom rot/fungus/pest. Slugs would favor moisture at night, too.
Pest issues: some nematodes are very active (aggressive) this season because of the warm weather. We lost watermelon plants as nematodes devoured the roots. They also attacked some transplants of artichoke. We could rescue the artichoke plants by treating the soil with sugar water, however. A few years ago, we used sugar water to successfully treat cucumber plants when nematodes attacked them. So, this time we applied the same method/sugar water for the artichoke plants and it did work to rescue the plants. Flea beetles are another pest attacking our tender crops more than normal….arugula, mizuna, komatsuna and mustards are major victims. Even kale (hardy green!) has been attacked by flea beetles. We use row cover to protect them from such pest, but flea beetles are so vicious this year. We put catnip plants right by the pest laden arugula and it worked to repel flea beetles and was effective enough to maintain the crop for harvest. Kale…..we trimmed the leaves of the flea beetle infested kale plants and watered well in order to enhance kale’s own strength and immunity, hoping flea beetles would stop infesting. Logistic behind this approach is that strengthening the weakened kale plants (heat stress/lack of water) back to more normal and healthy state by trimming and watering could work because often times pest targets weak(er) plants first. We already let go of komatsuna, mizuna and mustards due to flea beetle infestation, but tactfully we used them as a trap crop by leaving them as a bait to attract (trap) flea beetles to them so that they won’t go to other crops.
Sunshine and warm temperature contribute to a good yield and abundance assuming there is enough water available. And yet, if the condition goes beyond normal (temperature above 85 degrees or so), abundance could evaporate into the air. Too much heat can cause stress to many plants and negatively affects yield. For instance, we noticed tomato plants suffered a bit during the consecutive weeks of the heat spell; blossoms were falling off due to the high heat/stress. Although we have a decent quantity of tomatoes fruiting, abundance may be questionable if the heat wave returns and persists for the rest of the summer. August (usually driest and warmest) is just beginning.
Eat the season: have you tried our sweet carrots yet? They are candy sweet, really. We worried about carrot fly as I reported in my previous farm update, but so far carrots look and taste great, and wormy damage is minimum to normal at this point. We grow Yaya, Merida and Chantenay carrot varieties. We are also experimenting growing carrots and dill together as dill may help repel carrot fly (smell of dill confuses carrot fly detecting carrots). Interestingly, carrots and dill are not considered companions, however! We’ll see how they play out together.
Onions and corn are looking really good out there. Perhaps, it’s because they have been weeded better (thanks to volunteers!), watered in a timely manner and getting more sunny days than normal. Longer/more days of daylight are crucial for onions to grow and mature. Corn tassels are up and ears of corn are already forming well. Corn harvest may be a week or two earlier this year. Winter squash and pumpkin plants look happy….gourds are already producing fruits!
Summer cover crop/buckwheat: we planted buckwheat in some fallow areas for summer cover crop as part of crop rotation and soil tilth (buckwheat is a great nitrogen fixer, weed suppressor and fast growing without much water). However, we had to water buckwheat this time when we planted in mid-July. We normally don’t have to water cover crop because the ground is usually wet (such as fall/winter cover crop/winter rye) or keeps some moisture through July (summer cover crop/buckwheat), but not this time. We almost gave up planting buckwheat in Field 3 just to conserve water, but timely enough, last weekend’s rainfall made it possible to plant the second batch of buckwheat in Field 3 without irrigating water.
Crop failure/loss and crop diversity: as the dry weather and heat spell may continue, we are not immune to crop failure/loss to some extent. In fact, we lost a few lettuce crops and some leafy greens due to the extreme weather. And yet, having a diversity of crops has been good to our food production no doubt. Extreme condition, extreme measures. We grow well over 150 varieties of vegetables and herbs. A couple of good reasons for that are: marketability and risk factor diversification. The potato famine in Ireland? Growing diversified crop varieties helps us being able to serve a wide range of buyers and reduce the risk factors of crop failure/loss (some varieties may fail, but others may not….there is always something for backup). It’s a good principle to practice. Extreme condition/abnormal weather like this year and extreme measure/diversification. Examples are…. some of our lettuce varieties are performing poorly due to the heat wave, but we have other lettuce varieties relatively producing well enduring the extreme weather. We grow four varieties of kale and one of them has been heavily attacked by pest, but three other varieties are sustaining good yield. That’s all for this farm update. You can also follow this report with pictures here.
I hope you have been enjoying this beautiful spring weather. As a farmer, I certainly welcome sunshine/photo
synthesis, but heat….a bit oppressive. It’s been so unusually sunny/warm/dry throughout this spring. It’s still June, however. It already feels like mid-summer, or even warmer. We’ve been very busy in the field due to the outcome of the abnormally warm and dry conditions. I guess farmers are already tired!?….well, I may be speaking for myself. Although farming never gets boring (or fun?) when the weather hits like this, it certainly cultivates us to keep faith and optimism with Mother Nature at work. (more…)
We are back in the saddle and our farm season has just begun! We are gearing up for another good season. The fields have been relatively in good condition thanks to the mild weather of this winter….normally the ground would be still boggy, but so far that hasn’t been the case this spring.
To speak of the mild winter, Washington State is officially in a drought due to the reduced snowpack this year. Governor Inslee recently declared a drought emergency as water scarcity is affecting 44% of the state. I had a chance to speak with a farmer up north in Bellingham the other day. The farmer said he could already tell by looking at the snowpack level of Mt. Baker/North Cascades that his growing season would be a short one this year. This winter I also had a chance to visit San Luis Reservoir (largest of its kind in the US) in Central Valley, California, and witnessed the ongoing severe California drought condition. The fact is that the reservoir is only 66% full with almost zero snowpack in the Sierra Nevada (melting snow is CA’s main water source in summer). Climate change is happening and affecting water levels inch by inch, day by day. Drought is no longer just a California problem. Residents of other states should take a lesson from California. Drought crisis may come across the US soon according to GAO. We haven’t seen California’s drought economic impact yet because of the groundwater reserves. However, what if the groundwater runs out? One of our farming practices at 21 Acres has been to grow food with water conservation top of the mind. This is, no doubt, the very year we’ll practice that approach more seriously. No water, no food. (more…)
It’s October and fall is here! That means the leaves are changing colors, the air is cooling down and the daylight is getting shorter. I hope you had a great summer and enjoyed the prolonged warm weather since July. In fact, this summer was unusually warm and dry in Washington according to Agweathernet, and it looks like that abnormality may continue into fall, at least for now. The forecast is for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the next 1 – 2 weeks. (more…)
Many people must have felt relieved with the clouds and rain over this past week after many days of the scorching sun this summer. According to Agweathernet, this July was the warmest July since 1998. The farm definitely welcomed much needed rain showers and clouds to quench the thirst of the soil and crops in the field. In fact, the rain we received actually may help yield even more if the temperature rebounds with sunshine for the rest of the month. We’ll see how it will develop.
Thanks to the glorious weather crops have been growing fast, big and vibrant. Have you seen the produce in the market lately? Abundance is there and the produce is full of colors and flavors of the season. I hope you are not missing out on the season’s best. Loads of summer squash have been almost overwhelming since early July. Do you know how much zucchini can grow in a day? Watch the time lag pics we made for the answer. Tomatoes also love the warm weather and ripening has been consistent in the High Tunnel. By the way, we created a short video to show how to prune tomato plants. You can watch it online. Our super sweet corn will be ready for harvest next week….it’ll be about a week or so earlier than normal because of the warm summer. Here in the valley corn harvest usually takes place in late August/early September, but that won’t be the case this year. Winter squash and pumpkins are already fruiting, which makes us wonder if they might be an early harvest depending on how the nice weather sustains its system for the rest of the season. (more…)
I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July weekend. This is Farm Update #3 – what’s happening on the farm since the last update in June.
Summer is here! The growing season is in full swing and we’ve been very busy on the farm. Crops are generally growing in our favor except that we lost a little bit of the first and second crop of carrots and beets due to the heat wave in June and the soil issue in early spring – the ground got too wet/cold (Field 2) where they were planted. We are still behind with weeding, which is not unusual, but most crops are winning against the odds on their own. It’s actually impressive to see their strength to grow out of weeds, indeed. For example, we didn’t have much chance to weed beans this season, but mini-tilling between the rows; and yet, all the beans have been strongly competing against the weeds and vibrantly growing….are they “magic beans?” It’s sort of like a testimony of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story really.
Have you seen/tasted our new variety Burgundy beans yet? They are gorgeous and sweet! Onions and leeks are still partially buried under thick and deep waves of weeds, but thanks to the Secondary Academy of Success (SAS) volunteer program and our new volunteers/interns helping, we are gradually beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel….or is it merely my wishful thinking, maybe? As the summer moves on, we continue to prioritize what needs to be done first and most accordingly among weeding, harvesting, planting and other tasks. (more…)
I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful weather even before summer solstice. I have no complaint about this summer-like weather, except weeds invasion in the field! Crops are embracing this warm weather, of course, and weeds, too….they are growing like wild fire.
Every season we lay out a detailed plan of farming….seedling production (transplants), planting and harvesting (crop calendar), and weeding takes place whenever it’s necessary. Did I say “farming is weeding” before? And as usual, plans are there to be changed. (more…)
The 2014 farm season is going well so far, except that there is always something we have to deal with, but that’s a norm in farming just like raising a child. Parts of the fields are still wet…no surprise?…. but, we are moving forward on schedule.
Greenhouse operation for transplants began in mid-March and seedlings are growing well over all. So far, peas, spring greens, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, beans, potatoes, onions, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, bok choy (got some slug damage!) are in, and a few more items. Herb garden is looking good; in fact, better than last year and we added more thyme and tarragon this time. We just seeded summer squash last week, and tomato plants may be planted this week if the high tunnel’s condition favors us along with promising weather forecast. May is a tricky month due to weather’s caprice…wet/dry – sunny/rain…warm/cold….it sometimes even hails in May. So, we stay watchful during this tricky month.
We have an interesting experiment going on….bird feeders and birds mobbing. We set up bird feeders on trees in all four fields. By doing so, we hope to encourage small wild birds feeding and nesting; in return, they mob/drive away crows that are their (and our) enemy. We’ll see if it really works and brings a positive result….no more crows attacking our corn!?
Lastly, the goats….we have only two goats residing on the farm now….Skippy and Lucky. The other goats were moved to Pepe’s friend’s barn for winter and they made their new home there. Skippy and Lucky are doing well — the vet has been here for their biannual checkup.
— Farmer John