Ah, glorious moisture! The rain has come! The oncoming inclement weather had me out buttoning up the farm today. I picked the dry beans for shelling later in the winter, and also harvested green beans that we had let go to seed. The dry beans are a bale bean that we will eat and save some for seed for next year. The green beans are a large, tender, Romano flat bean called the Great Noreaster, which we get from Johnny’s seed company. They are the only green bean we grow, though we grow limited amounts of several dry beans for home use.
Erosion control is always on our minds when the first real rain is coming. In places where the chickens concentrated their activities during the season, there were some bare spots that needed seed and straw. Rotational chicken pasturing creates opportunity for building soil and pasture forage, encouraging the perennial bunchgrasses while discouraging the annual grasses that have taken over much of the landscape. In a season of low-impact initial rainstorms, little straw or seed is necessary because there is time to allow the pasture to recover on its own. If the first big storm comes after a prolonged period of dry time, the regrowth will not have had time to recover in some spots.
Our driveway is steep and requires a series of 10 waterbars to keep the rain from collecting and channeling; we try to follow the adage of “spread it, slow it, sink it”. Spread the water out so that it doesn’t concentrate flow; slow it down so that it has opportunities to sink in and recharge the groundwater. The waterbars are shallow ditches that slope downhill and channel the water from the center of the road off the edge. We alternate sides of the road every 50 feet or so, creating a zig-zag pattern that is effective at draining the water into ditches on both sides.
Rain is always intermittent during fall in our Mediterranean climate, but the intensity and variability seem to have increased in recent years. I’ve never seen a fall as dry as this; one rain event at the end of September and nothing else that month or in June, July, August, October and most of November. Then, the first weather to come through includes a prediction for five inches of rain in one day. The patterns seem more like monsoon season, which is not a good thing for water absorption and regeneration of subsurface flows. The faster and harder the rain hits, the more of it runs off the land without soaking in.
The slope of our farm means that we need to be extra careful of erosion both in pasture and garden terraces. Cover crop and straw for mulch are imperative to keeping ground cover and avoiding any potential for leaching of nutrients. These practices also help to slow the water, as do the terraced garden beds. Monitoring for potential erosion or water movement issues is part of our winter work plan, and provides a good reason for getting outside in the rain to see how things are faring.
Battening for rain includes pulling down the sides on our rabbitry. The roof is permanent, but the sides are made of woven greenhouse plastic that can be rolled up during the warm, dry season. With winter approaching, it is time to close the rabbits in for the cold season.
We have yet to see frost other than a few scattered pockets here and there. There have been frigid mornings in the valley for more than two months now, but the inversion layer makes it so that our farm at 3000ft of elevation is often above the frost layer. This is true except for when the wind blows from the North East, or when a storm comes down out of the Gulf of Alaska. Then we get hit with a snow load that is like nothing the valley will ever see.
Variability of microclimate creates differences in infrastructure requirements in terms of heating and snow-load capacity, as well as what crops will grow well and can withstand the different types of cold. These and many more are the factors that make up the capacity of a given farm. Being a farmer is as much about knowing a place and what to expect from it as it is about knowing how to grow things. Knowledge of each deepens with time, dual strands of the helix of agricultural DNA that is imprinted upon the agrarian sojourner. Until next time, much love and appreciation!