So, How’s the Weather? Or Why a Dry Summer isn’t Always a Bad Thing

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It’s happened to all of us. One minute you’re in the middle of a fascinating conversation or safely in the elevator alone (depending on the kind of day you’re having), and it happens. You’re stuck in the same old conversation about the weather. For many of us, it starts with observations on conditions or seasonal changes, moves on to preferences, and then there’s a bit on how it affects one’s plans, hobbies, or journey to and from the car. If the conversation gets really in depth, there may be some talk of how outdoor conditions affect the indoor climate.

There’s something to be said for how universal the weather conversation is. Everyone can relate to the weather, and we’re all affected by it in some way. But as I recently discovered, conversing about the weather isn’t always so mundane. For the agricultural community, the stakes go beyond whether you should bring an umbrella or sunscreen. The weather can affect your whole season and even your year. Plus there’s much more to learn than a weather app will tell you. With the upcoming season change, we decided to speak to Ken Chappell of Chappell’s Peaches and Apples and Cecilia Redding of Down2Earth Farms on how the weather this past summer has affected them and the produce in your boxes.

They both agreed that the summer has been pretty dry, but what I didn’t expect, was that with proper irrigation, this can be a good thing. Not only are rain and humidity are actually the biggest causes of disease in plant growth, but peaches actually like somewhat dry weather. Melons and peppers benefit from dry weather as well. While more water may mean plumper produce, the water can actually dilute the flavor of melons, and peppers are spicy in dry weather. Less water leads to higher alkaloid production in peppers, not least of these being capsaicin, the little guy responsible for binding to heat receptors in your mouth. Drier weather also lessens problems with mildew and can make harvesting easier, so the dry weather actually heaps benefits on many farmers. However, there are some difficulties to dry weather. While the difficulty may be apparent if one lacks an irrigation system, even with proper irrigation, an issue presents itself: namely, leaks. More irrigation equals more time fixing leaks, and while time consuming and possibly troublesome, the farmers I spoke to still gave the dry weather a thumbs up.

As we moved on to fall, we discussed expectations for the season and differences from previous years. While the dryness of the summer didn’t seem to have a lot of impact on the fall, some of the spring weather did. Chappell Peaches and Apples will be closing for the fall in two to three weeks instead of around Halloween, and the reason traces all the way back to March. On the 29th of March, a spring freeze dropped the weather to an icy 23°, causing gaps throughout the summer and leading to an early closing for fall.

While the dry summer makes for an easier harvest, the biggest fall change for Down2Earth Farms will be the introduction of two new high tunnels. Also called hoophouses, high tunnels serve to extend the growing season, and work much like unheated greenhouses, though they only allow for the growing of seasonal produce. At Down2Earth Farms, they also provide the added benefit of protection from windy weather in the area.

Though their opinions of the summer were similar, Chappell and Redding’s focus for their hopes for the fall differed. Chappell is hoping for rain this fall to provide groundwater for the winter. Redding’s focus was on temperature as she hopes for a smoother transition in temperature, with the real lows coming later on instead of the jumps of previous years.

The way people process and store information varies, and to process what I learned from the interviews, I decided to compare how I’d survive in produce growing weather.
1) Dryness – Depends how you look at it. I like rain, but for the most part, that’s on days I don’t go outside. On the other hand, I need lots of water. If I never had an alcoholic beverage in my life but went 30 minutes without a drink of water, I’d still start getting a hangover. On the other hand, proper hydration could be considered,um, drip irrigation, I guess, so let’s say I scored a maybe.
2)Temperature – Mostly fail. I’m good with a smooth transition into cool weather, but I’d also like that transition to start at the beginning of August. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for global disaster in terms of crop production since an early onset of winter can wreak havoc on produce; I’m speaking in terms of purely hypothetical personal comfort.
3) Acceptance of the weather and one’s outlook on it – Pretty good, though it’s something I still work on every day. This is more in regards to the farmer’s I spoke with rather than the plant’s opinion, but the positive outlook and their ability to adapt can serve as a reminder to all of us. If there’s a lot of rain, deal with the difficulties and be thankful for the groundwater. If the weather is dry, fix the leaks and be thankful for the flavor. Our best option is to do the best with what we’re given, and if the temperature is wrong, remember that the seasons change and the weather may be better next year.

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