How's the season looking?
This is April's favorite question. From the grocery buyer at your local grocer, to our production team, as the temperatures creep up in April, we all start to wonder: how are things shaping up for crops in Colorado?
And boy, do we wish we knew. As spring wraps itself around Colorado this year, the only thing certain is uncertainty. Here's a brief primer on why spring will always keep us guessing. And on why showing your support for local farmers and local food producers (wink, wink - nudge, nudge) makes such a difference as the temperatures rise and fall and rise again.
What's with our water?
Take a look at our snowpack and state water table right now (see above) and it's hard not to feel that, in light of recent years, the news is anything but great. If you told us in December that we'd be at 114% average snowpack in mid-April, we'd have given you a hug and a free jar of peaches.
But while the snowpack is good, damage done from last September's flooding adds an uncertainty to what all our moisture will mean for Colorado. If spring runoff comes too quickly, there is a large risk that saturated soils and damaged infrastructure will lead to flooding, mudslides and other issues could further damage irrigation infrastructure and set back crop development.
Furthermore, flooding in September deposited significant sediment in many reservoirs. And over-taxed natural resources employees have been unable to accurately measure just how filled with sediment most of our reservoirs are. We won't know much about irrigation availability until we start using it this summer.
With so much beyond our control, here's what we should hope for: nice, steady consistent warming. Not too many big spring snow and rain events, and full reservoirs come June.
Cold Snaps, Warm Snaps, Sun Snaps, Snow Snaps
Every year, spring in Colorado gets warm, and then cold, warm and then cold. It is 70 for a week (see current conditions) and snows on the weekend (see forecast). The cumulative impact of those warming and cooling trends is where we learn what comes when, and how much we get.
For early season (as well as late season) fruit, warm days stock up as something akin to warming units. Once the right number have been reached - fewer for cherries (June harvest) than, say, Fuji apples (November harvest) - trees begin to put forward buds, and then blossoms, and then set fruit. Cold days count not to slow trees down, but to keep them from speeding up. We began accumulating warm days in January or february. Once enough have been reached, trees will jump into bloom. Once in bloom, a particularly cold night can freeze buds or blossoms, killing the potential for fruit to set for some or all of an orchard's fruit. See this wonderful post from Ela Family Farms for more detail.
The same is true for our first spring vegetable crop - asparagus. A week ago, our asparagus was huddled, spears pointed up, around 2" below the ground. With the warms days, it grew up towards the surface and the first sprouts sprouted. Then - snow. A cold blanket on warm fields, that freezes the first plants and slows development. Now warmth again - asparagus should be close! - unless it snows again...
With springtime, uncertainty prevails. For those of us waiting to see what comes next week or next month, we keeping moving forward, getting excited and ready to enjoy the year's harvest - full with the knowledge we are unlikely to know for quite some time what will come next.