Every year in early to mid-February we get a week or so of sunny, mild weather. The rivers recede and ground starts to dry out. The ducks start to lay more eggs and the sky is full of migrating geese. Frogs fill the evening air with mating croaks. We quit using the wood stove during the day. If the weather stays nice for two weeks, trees start to bud. Farmer types start to get the itch to plow and plant. Some can’t help themselves. Then the rains return, as does the realization that this is the Great Northwest, much of which is a temperate rainforest.
We have had two inches of rain in the last 12 hours. Judging from the clouds, we are going to get much more. In that we live in a somewhat hilly area, every gradient creates a stream and every low spot a small pool. Our pond is overflowing. The ditches along our road are running with the color of the soil.
The ditches empty into a seasonal stream named Bear Creek. (There are at least three creeks within twenty-five miles with that name. As a child in central Illinois, I played in a Bear Creek. I am unaware of any bear sightings in either region, at least not in the last 100 years.) Bear Creek empties into the Santiam River. The river is cresting and big fir trees are once again losing their tenuous hold in shallow soil and crashing into the river to start their journey downstream.
If this year is like most, we will have steady rain until April. Bone-chilling rain. If this year is like the last three, we will have rain until June.
Three years ago we had a February “tease” that lasted for nearly three weeks. Some farmers we know were so excited by the prospects of an early spring that they planted their whole potato crop. The rains returned and they lost everything they had planted to rot. We had not planted our potato seed and had some to spare so we gave them enough for their own needs, yet they had nothing to sell.
We were somewhat proud of our planting prudence, waiting until the weather was certain to facilitate growth, sunlight and warmth, even if it meant getting our crops in the ground a bit later than we would have preferred. Our potatoes flourished, as did our cucurbits and squash. Our greens were amazingly prolific. By late August we were in full production mode, harvesting and delivering three times a week to our clients. And then the rains returned.
Rain in the Northwest is different than rain in any other part of the country. If farmers in the Midwest get a late August rain they are down on their knees thanking Harry Thunderer (obscure reference to a National Lampoon spoof). That is because a combination of rain and warm weather makes for great growing conditions. When it rains in the Northwest, it means cooler weather has arrived, and the combination is deadly. Molds take over. Tomatoes get a blight exactly eighteen days after the first cool rains.
Our friends lost their potatoes; we lost our tomatoes. Not all of them. Our cherry tomato crop ripened early enough, yet our big money crop, the heirlooms, had barely begun to show color. We took a big hit.
Two years ago we had a repeat performance of the tomato debacle. Add to that the flea beetles that decimated our entire mustard crop and skeletonized the leave on our potatoes and eggplant. We were not alone, but we had had enough. It was time to look for another vocation. And it is a good thing we got out when we did, for this last growing season was even worse. No one had any tomatoes, eggplant or peppers, all plants in the nightshade family that require a consistently warm period for growth and ripening. If you weren’t growing in hoop houses, you could kiss your income for the last part of the year (by and large the best money time) goodbye.
Although it’s been building for a couple days, our tease officially ended yesterday. As the sun set, filtered through gathering dark clouds, I could hear the frogs giving it their all. Then it started sleeting. DW baked some cookies, I put a couple extra logs on the fire and retired to the basement for I had another tease to deal with: poker.