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September 16, 2018
Spinach as a Benchmark
Notes From The Field
by Farmer Derek
A welcomed Sunday sun scene. Two batches of a summer sown cover crop mix of buckwheat, oats, crimson clover, and daikon radish on the left and our perennial pollinator habitat on the right.
Some very good sunshine today thankfully exceptionally give us more please! Exuberant joy!
And a week ago we were on the heels of a heat wave, tired of the sun, and needing a bit of rain. A tale of two contrasts is the story of the season, or a tale of extreme weather, or just a tale of having to think too much about the weather and plan the workload each week in minute detail to get dry-ground-required jobs finished just prior to the next wet weather event. Okay so it could have definitely have been worse. Overall harvests have remained ample but because the whole season has been on the wet side our standard has probably changed. Just the other day I had a brief glimpse into a forgotten mindset from past seasons when moderate and adequate and evenly spaced rainfall allowed every single crop to reach its full potential graciously, gloriously. Now I realize that that is probably not an accurate memory but perhaps a wish.
Realistically there are conditions that crops on our farm thrive the most in. Probably excess rainfall has the most deleterious effect on crops. Most of our bare ground fields would be happiest with a 1/4" of rain a week. It was such a wonderful experience a few weeks ago when the ground began to dry out; the crops seemed to shine (I was probably projecting). Of course after the 2.5 weeks of dry weather with two heat waves intermingled they did get thirsty and asked for irrigation (we complied). But there really were times other seasons where the tops of the beds would dry out, surfaces of plants would dry out to help minimize disease, and in the organic matter rich healthy soil below there would be enough moisture to keep plants thriving on our ubiquitous north facing slopes. Those were the days.
Spinach, the most sensitive crop we grow and a benchmark of the weather, has had a tough time of it this season. Ten years ago we tried direct seeding spinach on the farm. It's not as fast and reliable as a brassica green like arugula so we switched to transplanting it a couple of years later in the spring. We harvested a good amount for a week or so that spring way back in 2013 I think. Two or three of the plantings then got upset about moisture and were unharvestable. We thought "why waste time, space, resources on a crop that is so difficult to grow?" So we took a break for a couple of years while enjoying some good weather seasons and then decided to give it a go again. For the past 3 years have been transplanting it and mostly have had more harvest success. This spring was the first time in a long while where 2 of the 3 plantings got sick and weren't harvestable. For our fall sowings we germinate in our artificially cooled crop storage room (55-60 degrees) then transplant out after 4-5 weeks of growing on in our hoop house. The last seven days of rain/mist/moist weather spinach does not like. Perhaps it will pull through for an October/November harvest. Today's sunshine has me hopeful. We have one more planting to make outside, then 3-4 plantings inside our tunnels where plants seem to do much better because of the climate and moisture control.