Pre-irrigating Dry Fields & A Little Local Mystery

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Well, still absolutely no rain to report. Not even a drop. I think the last time it rained here was the first week of December. The air has been so dry that only a handful of days have we even managed to get any fog in the morning. It definitely does not feel like winter in any sense of the word; actually, the weather now is far and away better than our typical summer weather. Summer afternoons in Chualar are filled every day with a howling north wind, which makes doing anything outside pretty unpleasant. The afternoons now have been calm, and thermometers last week were reading 80 into the late afternoon. If it were not for the total lack of rain, and the ominous calls of the worst drought in 100 years, it would be a great winter.

No exaggerations here...

No exaggerations here…

Sadly though, we do all rely on our annual winter rain and snow fall for so many important reasons. Up and down the Salinas Valley, for the last few weeks now, growers everywhere have been throwing out pipe and pre-irrigating their fields to gear up for the upcoming growing season…we started water up last week, to plant romaine in February.

Disking down the cover crop to prepare for Spring Mix - didn't get very tall this year. The ranch looks like a remake of the movie "Holes." We're taking advantage of the dry weather to improve our irrigation system. It's not the easiest work, but it will pay-off later.

Disking down the cover crop to prepare for Spring Mix – didn’t get very tall this year. The ranch looks like a remake of the movie “Holes.” We’re taking advantage of the dry weather to improve our irrigation system. It’s not the easiest work, but it will pay-off later.

Normally Mother Nature takes care of the first round of pre-irrigations for us with rain, but not so this year. Fields are so dry and cloddy that they just can’t be worked without first sprinkling on some water.

Irrigating and breaking up the ground - it's the first step toward planting romaine in February.

Irrigating and breaking up the ground – it’s the first step toward planting romaine in February.

If the stubborn weather pattern does finally change and we begin to get a lot of late rains, it could make for a very interesting spring in the valley. Programs will have moved back from the southern deserts, and as growers try to get into stride here, we may have to contend with wet and muddy conditions, which are not really conducive to planting, nor any other part of the growing process. As much as we all wished we had total control over what we do out here, this unusual weather is a good example of what makes farming so unpredictable. The challenge is being able to roll with the cards you’re dealt, make things happen out in the field, and produce quality vegetables every day.

On a lighter note; a few weeks ago, the relatively uneventful town of Chualar garnered a little bit of national attention with its very own mysterious (for a time) crop circles.

Chualar, CA...the new Area 51? Photo courtesy of KSBW.com.

Chualar, CA…the new Area 51? Photo courtesy of KSBW.com.

Unexplained for a few days, and just down the road from our ranch, it was finally revealed that the detailed design found in a cover crop field was a marketing gimmick from the graphics chip maker Nvidia. They hired a group that actually makes these for a living, and coordinated with a local grower to pull off the stunt. If nothing else, it was entertaining to see throngs of cars and news trucks lining the sides of, normally, a very quiet country road, trying to get a peek. So many believers! At this point I think everyone would just be happy to see some rain clouds.

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