Two thousand fifteen is drawing to a close, and we will be very glad to see it go. After one of the hottest and driest growing seasons ever, we got hit with our first flood at the stroke of midnight on November 1st. We always say that flood season begins on the first of November, and we are usually pretty well prepared for that eventuality, but it did seem a bit ridiculous to have it start literally overnight on Halloween. All in all, we’ve seen four significant floods so far this fall/winter, and there are still several months to go. Fortunately, the floods started out pretty small (only flooding our lowest ~40 acres) and got successively bigger. That meant that we were able to gradually harvest the storage crops that remained in the field, and when the last, biggest, flood hit on December 9th, all that was left to do was move things up off the ground in our barns and shops. The December 9th flood was the biggest we have had in the five years we’ve been on this property, and when we saw the forecasts a few days ahead of time we were guessing it would be big enough to get into the barn where we have two of our big walk-in coolers. We managed to get everything in there moved up onto makeshift shelves to keep it off the ground, and it’s a good thing we did, because all of our coolers did have about an inch of water in them at the peak of the flood.
A flood of this size (probably somewhere between the 10th and 6th highest since records have been kept) is a great opportunity for us to learn. We were farming in the valley in 2009 when we had the biggest flood of all time, so we have a pretty good idea of what a really big flood looks like. Every year, we discuss what our worst-case scenario situation would be: record flooding in early November, when we have three fridges full of just-harvested produce. If that were to happen, we’d load all our vans and trailer up with boxes and bags of produce and drive them off the farm to higher ground. Then we’d move everything in our shop and barn up onto high shelves or onto our farm pad (a small, flat-topped hill we built for this very purpose). Last, we’d do our best to move everything in our employee houses up off the floor, because a really really big flood would result in a few inches of water in those houses.
We live and farm in the expectation that, one day, we will get another flood like the ’09 event. But this year’s biggest (so far!) was about 2.4′ lower than the record ’09 flood. We got to see what happens when the water gets high enough to start trickling through our barn, and we learned how water sort of bubbles up into our tool/machine shop through the cracks in the concrete floor (which is sort of creepy). And I think I have a better picture in my mind of what it will look like when the big one comes again: water flowing all around and under our house, and no way to get off our porch except by boat.
So, with all the flood excitement of the last couple months, the hellish summer has sort of faded into the background. We wrote about some of our struggles back in July, and that was probably the low point of the season for us. After making the call to take a break from our Thursday markets, we were able to re-direct our resources toward installing and managing a complex network of drip tape and supply line. By early August, we had moved beyond panic mode and into a state of endless daily irrigation drudgery: fuel the pump, clean the filters, switch the supply line from one set of beds to another, move the mini sprinklers onto the latest seeding of salad greens, repeat, repeat, repeat. When we finally did get rain (an inch in late August), it fell on ground that was so dry it barely wetted it more than a a few inches deep. It did damp down the dust on our driveway for a couple days, and then September came with another well-below-normal rainfall. Irrigation activities continued on and on through early October! And just three weeks after we ceased irrigating, half our farm was underwater.
It was a year of incredible contrasts and challenges. We feel very good about how we coped with the early and frequent flooding – we got pretty much all our storage crops out of the field, and are going into the new year with plenty of inventory in our big fridges. Plus, we got a priceless crash-course in setting up and managing 10+ acres of drip tape, so we now feel very well prepared to deal with future drought years. Every year brings new and often unexpected challenges, but I have to think that this was one of the more extreme growing seasons. Either that, or this is the new normal! But if so, well, we will press on. To 2016… and beyond!