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Coping with Storms

Coping with Storms

Many of you know that one of my favorite experiences of 2018 was participating in the Masumoto Family Farm Adopt-A-Tree Program...read about it here. Well, I'm all set to take part again and I've really been enjoying the Field Notes e-newsletters that keep me informed of farm life and how the trees are shaping up for 2019.

Read below for a fascinating look at farm life and how nine minutes of bad weather can wreak utter havoc. Learning about the Masumoto's monthly ups and downs, really puts how delicate our food systems are in perspective for me...I'm sharing their latest update to give you a peek into their world and I hope you stay tuned for my personal field notes coming in August.

Hello Adopt-A-Tree teams,

Just a few weeks ago last month on Sunday, May 19th, I stood in my kitchen staring out the window. Rain poured from the sky in a fury, as if it was angry at the clouds and thus hurled itself recklessly towards the ground.

Then the sound changed.

The rain drops that once splat on the roof transitioned into thuds. My heart sank. I threw open the door and stood under our patio to verify what I feared: hail.

I grabbed my phone to look at the time and called my dad. "Dad, it's hailing."

Mas, "No."

When I was about 9 years old, a hail storm descended upon our farm in June and destroyed nearly our entire crop for the year. I remember this distinctly. I saw my dad throw his hands up and yell at the sky, tormented with grief and helplessness. That hail storm lasted 7 minutes.

The hail on Sunday, May 19th of this year lasted about 9 minutes.

As soon as it passed, we rushed out to the fields to begin assessing damage. But the reality is: we won't know the extent of the damage until it is time to harvest.

Our first varieties of the season have shown a lot of hail damage. In addition to the hail, we also had record-rainfall in May, leaving a prime climate for rot, especially after the hail sliced open some fruit. We have to do more calculations, but we're guessing we did not break even on our first two varieties of stone fruit. This season has tested our ability to remain positive in the face of losing 40-50% of our first three crops of the season.

But, not all is lost. This is part of why we've diversified our varieties and grow fruit that ripens from May through your trees in late July and/or early August.

So....How are your trees?

The lucky part of it: when the hail hit, the fruit on your Adopted trees was still very small, hard, and green and had a fair amount of leaf cover to protect and shield from the hail. Your trees are still growing and the fruit appears mostly ok.

Overall: it appears your fruit survived the hail with very little damage.

(Unfortunately, our first 3 varieties of our season did get damaged by the hail. And as we now are closing our fourth variety, we realize the hail will haunt our entire season. Yet, we are also thankful it wasn't worse.)

Moving forward: thinning

After a big exhale, the work continued! A few weeks ago we thinned your trees.

Thinning is a process through which we remove some of the green fruit from the branches (all by hand) in order to leave space and allow the tree's energy to focus on growing and ripening the remaining fruit.

Some years, depending on the "set" ("set" is the term we use to describe the conversion of blossoms to fruit, a strong "set" means that the majority of the blossoms did indeed turn into fruit), we remove up to around 75 - 80 %.

For the past few years: we have barely thinned.

The Elberta peach trees have not had many blossoms and not set super well that past few seasons.

The Le Grand nectarine trees similarly, have had fewer blossoms in the past few years than before.

This year, most of the Elberta peach trees were loaded with fruit!! We sent our expert crew through and they thinned a healthy amount of fruit.

The Le Grand nectarines were more inconsistent. Some trees had a nice set and needed some healthy thinning, while others, we thinned very little. We are able to do such specific thinning because our workers are awesome and so experienced they make adjustments depending on what the tree needs.

We are delighted with the way the trees look so far --- hopeful for the flavors that will develop and humbled that we limp through hail damage and also are grateful for what could have been a total disastrous hailstorm.

The question remains on our minds: if 9 minutes of hail can create such destruction on a farm, how do we plan for these kinds of disasters? How might we structure the risk of farming in the future? When and how do we ask for support from others? Most of all: what if we designed a food system with an intimate understanding of the risks inherent in growing food?

For your trees, it remains to be discovered the extent to which the hail may have damaged any fruit. If there are scars, pock marks, or other signs of hail damage, the fruit is still edible, just not unblemished. We'll just have to wait and see!

The good work continues, Nikiko

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