Producer Perspecitves on the Drought: Redbyrd and Eve's
I (Melissa), as the New Mexican native in this group, have been consistently worried about water the entire time I've been farming in upstate NYS (12 years now). Even a wet year won't allay my fears for long... I always count the minutes to the next rainstorm. One postive benefit of this is the mindset Garrett and I used in designing our Good Life Farm generally, and our organic orchards specifically. But we're young yet. I do think we're seeing benefits to these past 8 years of planning and design, but I'll follow that up in future weeks. I reached out to the other Cider House producers, and got back from my mentors (let it not be said I called them "elders") a perspective on the drought, tempered by more experience and a lifetime in the northeastern climes.
Words from (the) non-irrigated cider orchard at Redbyrd Orchard, home of Eric Shatt and Deva Maas and family.
.…….Lately I have been noticing the green of trees both orchards and forests, contrasting amongst the brown withered dry grass. This reminds me that our tree roots are much deeper than the surface vegetation and taping moisture deep within the soil. I think our perennial trees are ok even with this severe drought they are likely responding by pushing their roots even deeper and searching and discovering new pockets of moisture deep within the shale and till. This is pushing them to be stronger more resilient trees. Although most orchards have a light crop this year due to frost/freeze, trees holding a heavy crop are becoming more and more stressed as this drought continues, and we are considering dropping crop where necessary. The fruit that will remain for harvest will likely be small in size but be concentrated and full of flavor and sugar. The first raspberry from our non-irrigated brambles I tasted this year wowed me!!!!!! Compared to last year the flavor was intense!!!!! 2016 may become a good year for flavor, a good year for growing tree roots, and a good year to jump in the lake!!!!!!
Eric Shatt, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, July 2016
The Drought. Summer of 2016 at Eve's Cidery.
Autumn and I, Celia and Ben, sit down around a table for lunch, in the middle of a disgorging day, the sun and heat filtering in through the open windows. “Is this the driest summer you have ever seen?” Ben turns to James, the oldest among us. James: the crazy man, the medicine man, the interpreter of the stars. A sixth generation orchardist. He just turned 66. “Yes” he answers.
Every day is as same as another day can be for 7 weeks: clear blue skies, intense sun, no rain. It is what people think about when you talk about intensely flavored fruit, if you have a crop. But that is another story; the story of 8 (yes 8.0) degrees farenheit in mid May.
Under these conditions, we think of the trees. It is a punishing environment, this California desert. Our large un-irrigated trees in Newfield, planted in a deep, gravel loam, are fine, their extensive root systems going where the soil hasn’t yet dried out. Their crop was reduced by the May freeze event, to be reduced again in size by the drought. Meanwhile, our large unirrigated trees in Van Etten, planted on a steep hillside in shallower soils are suffering, but healthy.
It is the young trees we worry about. The young trees on the hill have put on little growth. And it is a potential killing field where we planted our newest orchard this Spring, in the Valley in Van Etten. The Valley contains a deep gravel loam with an enormous aquifer available just five feet down. Out of reach for now. We raced to put up a deer fence and irrigation lines, attached to a shallow well pumping out of that miraculous water source. Some trees have died. Most will now survive.
The afternoon sky is blue. The sun beats down, and so it goes.
The pump cycles on and off, day and night, and so it goes.
NOAA’s weather forecast is for no rain in sight, and so it goes.
Ezra Sherman, Eve’s Cidery, July 12, 2016