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PlacerGROWN: How does massive March affect local farmers?

By: Karen Killebrew
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We’ve all been amazed at the intensity of March’s winter blast. Some of us have to shovel snow, others just grumble about the relentless rain and wind, but for our local farmers, the weather is a predictably unpredictable element of their annual planning. “Things will be late, that’s for sure,” says Lisa Pilz of Pilz Produce at Hillcrest in Penryn. “The moon is in a good phase for planting on the fifth, so we’ve been out in the fields assessing what is going to be dry enough. We’ll ruin the soil structure if we take the tractor in when it’s too wet.” Steve and Lisa Pilz, who raise produce, flowers and mandarins, plant sequentially throughout the year. “The beans are lying down, the onions have water trails through them, and the rose growth has been battered by the wind,” says Lisa. Jim Brenner of Brenner Ranch in Newcastle, on the other hand, likes a wet March. Even the hail and wind can be his friend, as it thins the fruit blossoms, which means less pruning later on. According to Jim, it’s too early to tell if fruit will develop normally, or if blossom or fruit drop will affect the trees. “I don’t really mind a lighter crop,” this pragmatic farmer says. “It might mean it is less labor intensive, and we should still have plenty of fruit to sell.” At Jan and Francis Thompson’s Twin Brooks Farm, the greenhouse is bulging with plants awaiting transplant, and the potatoes have nine-inch spouts. “The ground is very soggy,” says Jan. “Some fields drain better than others, so Francis is watching carefully to find a spot to plant the potatoes as quickly as possible. We did get some things in the ground a few weeks ago, but there will be a gap.” “You do what you have to do,” says Bryan Kaminsky of the Natural Trading Company in Newcastle. Natural Trading Company start their CSA box subscriptions the third week of May, so it’s going to be down to the wire. “Things we planted in February are not growing because of the cold, and we basically lost March,” Kaminsky says. “But we’re getting the arugula and radishes in now, and soon things will start to come along like crazy.” Farmers are used to keeping their eye on the weather, but everyone agrees this March was one for the record books. Despite having to rethink planting times and locations, these farmers are all upbeat about what they do. Think spring, and be flexible. There will always be something fresh and tasty available … it just may not be in the markets exactly when you’ve come to expect it. Karen Killebrew is the president of the board of directors for PlacerGROWN, Placer County’s agricultural marketing organization. Contact Karen by e-mailing karen@naturemedia.net or learn more online at www.placergrown.org