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Notes from the Farm

Posted 12/4/2007 7:34pm by Leaf Myczack.
I am not the only one confused about what season we are experiencing. The calendar of course says we are in early December, and therefore it should be nearly the season of winter. That would mean wet and cold under “normal” conditions. A time when most plant life is dormant, and the abundant seasonal rain and snow turn the land wet and squishy underfoot, but not so this year.

Probably due to the severity of this year’s drought, many trees and plants went into a seemingly static state. Almost all-new growth stopped, and plants and trees seemed to have allocated themselves the existing minimal ground moisture reserves based solely on survival and not on expanded growth. While a plant’s normal goal is successful reproduction and perpetuation, it usually creates a healthy and vigorous plant before forming the reproductive organs / flowers. It was fascinating to watch a portion of a plant’s foliage die off in order to have enough moisture to form a seed head. Some plants mostly skipped the foliage to concentrate on creating the next generation.

Early into the drought, it became apparent that we would not have enough irrigation water to take care of all of our fruit trees or berry canes through the summer months if the drought deepened. As farm water resource manager, I made the decision to allow some of the fruit trees and berry canes to naturally shut themselves down in response to the drought. My intuition told me to step back from the role of farmer and take on more of the role of scientific observer. I believed that through evolutionary response to the vagaries of weather and climate, that plants would have an appropriate response to soil moisture shortfalls by going dormant. Subsequent plant activity bore out the correctness of my belief.

However, when we entered a cycle of more regular rainfall beginning on October 19th, a strange phenomenon occurred. Responding like desert flowers to a rare rainfall, plants and trees sprang “awake” and began to exhibit new growth even though the normal growing season was supposedly winding down based on the shorter daylight hours available. Warmer and wetter than normal weather during the month of November fostered this late season growth spurt. Our rose bush next to our farm sign acted like it was spring and produced big red roses in time for Thanksgiving. The methley pear trees are still leafed out at the ends of branches and they exhibit the pale green tips of unfolding new growth. They seem oblivious to the occasional frosty night.

In a protected niche behind the greenhouse, purple salvia merrily bloom forth at the same time that paper-whites are pushing up slender leaves. Other plants are burned to a dead crisp by the icy death grip of a hard freeze, while some saplings seem reluctant to yield their leaves, as do some of the mature trees nearby. It is as though the summer growth cycle was suspended for a couple of summer months, and then rescheduled for the fall months. Plants from different seasons are growing at the same time, when normally their growing paths would never cross.

While plants may have evolutionary response mechanisms that work to protect them, it would appear that a combination of extreme weather anomalies this year has disrupted the once normal seasonal transitions of many species. As farmers, we must learn how to successfully operate within these new and unique climate gyrations. As part of a sustainability-teaching farm, we are ready to share what we learn with those who seek information on weathering these new agricultural challenges.