The ground was just dry enough. I felt the soil with my hands, and… it was cold. Was it too cold I wondered? Hmmm… likely, but peas are tough. They’re cold weather plants.
Besides, we’re already running 5 weeks behind. I didn’t want planting delayed yet another week.
The decision was made, and in went the pea seeds. I put in only half to hedge our bets.
A week later, I planted the other half of our first scheduled planting. This time the ground actually felt a bit warm… warm enough for peas at least, but not heat loving plants. That was June 7th,2019.
Now glancing back at our records, those first peas planting dates tell a story:
In 2016: april 21st,
in 2017: may 10th,
in 2018: may 21st
As growers we’ve seen the changes and we experience the impacts of climate change in our daily lives.
It’s also why you haven’t seen fresh peas at our stand this season until a week ago… and why you aren’t seeing as much locally grown beans at the farmers markets so far this year. Climate change has done more than delayed our first plantings of peas.
Why Fewer Organic Cucumbers Are Grown Outdoors
Up until 2007, we would grow cucumbers out of doors directly from seed and we’d pick fresh cucumbers up until Hallowe’en – if we remembered to go cover them in case of damaging frost. We don’t do that anymore.
Things changed back in 2009. That’s the first year our outdoor cucumbers began to die off in mid-August. The cucumber harvest came to an end by mid-September… and it’s only gotten worse since then.
These days, it’s just expected that mildew will cut short their normal lifespan. In fact, it’s accepted as normal – the new normal.
No more trying to grow cucumbers outdoors. The harvest had become too small, too short and too unreliable to provide a return for our efforts.
Times have changed…and as far as crops go, it’s not just cucumbers that are affected.
What Else Has Changed?
Cabbages, arugula, bok choi and others seem to be much more prone to attack by flea beetles. These little black bugs suck the plant juices and eat holes in the leaves. Sometimes even killing the plants.
Tomatoes and potatoes now live under threat of early and late season blight. Both of these infections were never encountered by my grandparents on their farms. They harvested tomatoes until the frost finally got them.
Anyone engaged in growing fresh food these days faces the challenges that a changing climate brings… and conditions continue to change.
When my parents took up farming, the first and last frost dates were May 15 and about September 10th. We didn’t worry about frost as a threat to our growing crops in mid June or July.
Well, we’ve had frost in July! And sometimes we fire up the wood stove in June.
Challenged to continue to grow quality produce anyway, we’re faced with two questions:
- What can we change?
- How can we change it?
Changing the climate seems well beyond our power.
So getting back to those cucumbers again. We changed the way we do things. It seemed the only way we could possibly continue to grow them locally outdoors was to resort to a heavy continuous chemical spray program to keep the plants alive and productive.
What We’ve Found
We found that having a more controlled environment reduced stress on the plants so they could remain healthy and productive much longer. Growing them under plastic covered hoops, we are able to use no harsh chemical pesticides nor herbicides while continuing to provide growing conditions that support good plant health. Three years ago we switched all our cucumber production to under hoops, using non-gmo seed and organic methods.
This year we got off to a very late start outdoors and the decision to move to more covered protective production a few years ago has made all the difference. This year being the third year in a row of wetter than usual spring weather causing planting delays. We need the ground dry enough to walk on and to work without damaging the soil structure, and warm enough for seeds to germinate. When planting is delayed too long, crops don’t grow and mature to produce a harvest by the time the weather gets too cold again.
How New Conditions Call for New Plans
When outdoor ground and weather conditions were delayed this season, we continued planting out from trays into the ground, not outside, but in our hoop structures to continue producing chemical free produce to for our Hartshare veggie box program members and farmers market customers. While this has worked well, we ran out of space to continue planting in the ground as the cold wet weather continued into June this year.
It was June 7th this year, when the soil was finally warm enough for cold-hardy peas to germinate well. (That first planting in May only germinated about 60%.) Very late indeed.
It’s also why we’ve begun establishing more area under plastic-covered hoops for next season. This increased area under more controlled growing conditions will enable us to offer more products even when the ground conditions outside unsuitable for planting and growth. It will also help us provide a more consistent offering throughout the season.
You’ll be able to follow the progress over the coming months in our newsletters as we prepare for spring 2020. For now, we hope you’ll enjoy the fresh cucumbers now coming to market.