Monday, December 13, 2010

This just in from Environment Canada: No more normal weather. Ever.

"Isn't it interesting that the same people who laugh at science fiction listen to weather forecasts and economists"
Kelvin Throop

T.V. viewing and vegetable farming are mutually exclusive pursuits throughout much of the year.

Very much like writing this blog and vegetable farming, as I've discovered.

That said, I had the luxury of watching the six o'clock news the other evening, followed at seven by a show dedicated to Hollywood types, most of whom I had never heard of.

The common thread seemed to be the sheer magnitude of their assorted dysfunctions. Apparently the attraction of these human train wrecks,delivered in a slick on-air package, is not a niche market: we are promised a whole new expanded playlist of bad behavior come the new year.

Weather forecasters have decided to take a similar approach. Gone are the days of Farmers' Almanacs (which rely on rolling averages) and their bland predictions of a "normal "season ahead. Gone too are a lot of local "father-knows-best" type weather folks. They seem to have been replaced by type A auctioneers halfway through their second six-pack of Red Bull.

Nobody wants to hear about Lindsay Lohan behaving herself: wearing sensible shoes and a house dress and running a church bake sale. Apparently, nobody wants to hear about Mother Nature behaving herself, either.

Nope, Environment Canada has decided to swing for the fences,calling for the mother of all winters for 2010-2011. This forecast is hot on the heels of calls for a "hot, dry summer", made back in early May.

Environment Canada is still high-fiving each other for their accuracy in predicting a hot summer, but let's back up a minute here: they called for a hot dry summer.

It was indeed hot, but rainfall was normal throughout the vast majority of the province.
What this means is that E.C. only got it half right.

What would happen in a world where accountants only got it right half of the time?
Or plastic surgeons?

You'd have an awful lot of funny looking people getting audited,that's what.

Much and all as we have gangs of roving T.V. reporters looking for mudslides,tsunamis, major earthquakes, massive forest fires and the like, the fact remains that Southern Ontario is blessed with an abundance of normal weather.

Although we occasionally suffer from widespread drought or rainfall, it is seldom on the scale of the disasters from around the world we see on the news most evenings.

And what may make for lousy "details at 6" makes us very lucky indeed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Life in the slow lane

'' Sometimes I wonder if the world is being run by smart people who are putting me on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
Mark Twain

Most of the last month has been viewed from the seat of my tractor.

Spring planting is a clean canvas: newly tilled fields alive with the potential (at this early date,anyways) for your best crops ever.

It's like getting ready to go out on a blind date with Mother Nature: She sounds great on the phone and you haven't found out she snorts when she laughs yet.

When you're travelling at 4-5 miles per hour through an empty field, you don't really need a traffic report. I tend to leave the radio off. There is no onboard computer, Blackberry or cellphone........

My wife and I attended an agricultural conference where a speaker asked the members of her audience:
"How many people here have a website?"

My wife and I joyously raised our hands along with many others. After years of talking about it, we could finally join ranks with the enlightened. Blessed technogeekdom at last!

This was the wrong answer as it turned out. Apparently the internet is too slow. Unless you're a farmer that is texting or tweeting; you're a twerp, yesterday's news.

Our speaker went on to explain how a Blackberry or similar contraption would improve our marketing skills, make use of wasted downtime and keep us on the cutting edge of the new "social media."

Anything with a blackberry sounds more like a social disease to me.

Or perhaps "unsocial media" would be a better term.

If you have ever sat down for a meal with a bunch of dedicated Blackberry users, you will know that actually carrying on a meaningful conversation with them is like trying to engage a bunch of people trying to dodge an assasin's bullet. There is a vaguely hunted quality to them.

I always have a strong sense of deja-vu at such moments. The last time I experienced so much under the table interest was during an informal and spontaneous game of "Who-squeezed-the-cheese?"at a friend's sixth birthday party.

I'm sure there's a place for all these wireless wonders; just not aboard my tractor. I love this undisturbed time and all the tweets in the world aren't going to make those beans ripen any quicker.

At this time of year, I think you have to go with ol' Waldo:

"Adopt the pace of Nature; her secret is patience."

Slowly yours,


Sunday, May 9, 2010

So, when will that first sweet corn be ready,eh?

"It's horizontal weather out"
Slang for heavy snow or rain with extremely high winds.

Okay, let's just review the last few weeks of spring weather:
The driest April since 1881.
Record high temperatures.
A season 3 weeks ahead of normal.

So we all knew it was too good to last.....

Like a Maple Leaf winning streak or a Larry King marriage; we're pulling for them. But sooner or later, the wheels will fall off. Ditto the weather here in Southern Ontario; it's a leaky vessel to pour much hope into.

Winds touched 100 clicks here yesterday afternoon. Dance partners included heavy rain, hail, sleet and snow throughout the day and overnight; horizontal weather indeed!
The snow is not deep, but it's certainly crisp and even this morning, just in time for Mother's Day.

Bless their cold tolerant little hearts, our first sweet corn planting chose yesterday to make their first appearance above ground, just in time for the frost that we enjoyed overnight.

The actual temperature of a "killing frost" is quite different from one crop to the next. Cole crops like cabbage and broccoli are extremely frost tolerant. Sweet corn, being a warm weather crop that will not grow below 10 degrees C. is considerably less tolerant.

For corn, a "simple frost" is anything warmer than 28 degrees F. Corn will survive short periods at this temperature, shake it off, and keep growing once the weather gets warmer again.

Lethal cold, or the killing temperature for corn is anything below 28 degrees F. This will kill the growing point (even of corn below the ground). It takes a few days to diagnose; cooler weather prolongs your diagnosis,because the corn is merely being refrigerated, rather than growing.

We usually aim for August 1 as the start date for sweet corn in our area. This frost certainly has thrown a wrench into the works; call us simple but we don't know whether our frost was a killing one yet; stay tuned for crop updates.

Happy Mother's Day!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Is it just me, or is it getting kind of dry out here?

" Well sown is half grown"
Farm saying

Most of us remember 2009 as the year without a summer; a dreary progression of wet weekends brightened by biblical downpours. Local coffee shops were filled with roving gangs of air conditioner and pool salespeople. Tempers frayed and tomatoes blighted. It made "Mad Max" look like "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm".

What a difference a year makes!

The fields are alive with the sound of diesels. Cash croppers have on their "What, me worry?" smiles and most of Ontario's 2010 field corn crop has been planted, into the best soil conditions in many years.

We sowed our spring wheat on April 15. We have had no appreciable rainfall since then, meaning that there have been 17 days straight to plant any early seeded crops. By way of comparison, it took until June 10 in 2009 to accumulate 17 planting days! Soil conditions were such that a lot of those fields were worked too wet; the crops "mudded in".

There is a perfect time to plant most fields. The tipping point comes when there is enough moisture to germinate the seed, and yet not too much moisture to allow the soil to be compacted by the weight of the tractor. Hence the well sown=well grown. If you can wait a bit and avoid compacting the soil, the roots will have an easier time growing and ultimately produce a better crop.

Because it has been so dry, even the dreaded "Markham Clay" can be worked this spring without fear of soil compaction.

Our first planting of sweet corn is in the ground. I have never seen such dry soil conditions so early in the season; we actually need rain just to germinate that first planting.

Planting season for a vegetable farmer is a drawn out affair; we go from now to the end of July, so it's still early in the piece as to what kind of year we're in for.

It's overcast and the weather man promises rain. I say send-her-down, but the memory of 2009 is still sloshing around.....

In farming, as in life, you have to be careful what you wish for!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time to plant! Right?

"Sit on the earth on your bare bottom. If it feels warm, it's time to plant."
Toronto Star. April 18,2010

Farming is a mixture of art and science, but this planting-by-posterior method is new to me. I think that if you want to bare your backside in the back 40, well, that's your business. The repercussions of my trying this new method in our road field beside a busy Warden Avenue? That might lead my neighbors to form some conclusions of their own:

1. That I've found a clutch of killdeer eggs and gone broody.
2. That I've forgotten that old maxim that it's the footprints of the farmer that are the best fertilizer.

Call me old-fashioned, but it think that it's best to go with the science on this one.

Corn is the first vegetable crop that we plant. The tried and true method for corn is to take a thermometer (a soil thermometer; don't get ahead of me here) and place it 2-3 inches into the ground. If it reads 10 degrees C. or above; you're good to go, or in this case, plant.

We're reading about 7 degrees today, so we'll probably hold off for a few more days. In any event, we'll certainly hope to be earlier than May 15, which was our 2009 first planting date.

Happy Earth Day!