Saturday April 1, 2017
be careful what you wish for (part 2)!
We knew it would happen eventually, but after five years, one has to wonder! I started to get superstitious. Just don’t talk about it, and it will happen, I would say.
The meteorologists were convinced that the 2015⁄16 El Niño was going to be huge. Comparable to 1997. They were sort of right. Unfortunately, the fire hose opened up on Northern California and left us with an almost respectable 20″ total for the season. Respectable at least when compared to the four prior rain seasons!
I’m not sure what’s the bigger surprise: the soaker of a season we’re in, or Trump’s victory.
The fall rains started early and were light and steady. The hills were green by November. Mustard was in full bloom by December, as temperatures were still quite mild until Christmas. By the end of December, and all the way through February, we had weekly rain events dumping 5+ inches in each wave. So much that by the end of February, ponds that had been dry since 2012 were full, and streams were running for weeks everywhere you looked. Lake Nacimiento, at barely 20% capacity in December, is now essentially full. Unbelievable!
It was so much of a good thing that we all started almost dreading it. Many of you might recall my fall 2015 newsletter was entitled “be careful what you wish for”. I was alluding to what might happen when the rain keeps coming. Well, let’s see…
• We discovered a half a dozen leaks in our house that we had never witnessed in the ten years since we built.
• Mud started sluffing off of the cut slopes along our driveway. Two of my field guys were shoveling mud for a week.
• A three inch main water line, six feet under the parking lot at the winery, broke, and we had to hand dig it since there is a complicated web of electrical, telecom, and water lines all around the break. And, oh yeah, it happened a day before the first major soaker hit us in January!
• One of our culverts got plugged up by the cascading mud. It’s 25 feet long and 18 inches in diameter and runs under our driveway next to the winery. Boy, that was a blast to unplug!
• Concurrent with all this, our gate operator failed us and was out of commission for three weeks. This is the third operator we’ve installed since we built our home. They aren’t cheap!
• We started a remodel of our tasting room just as the rains really got going. One of the bar tops in the tasting room is being extended. It’s made with the orchard walnut I’ve taken out to make room for our vineyard plantings. I’m storing about a dozen trunks on the northeast quadrant of our ranch where it’s relatively flat, and thought I’d be smart and attempt to pull one of the logs out of the pile with some chains after a week of sun, just before the next wave of storms. Never mind that I tell my field guys they’re not allowed to put wheels on the dirt during the rainy season! I didn’t make it a third of the distance to the pile, and the truck got stuck in the mud. There it sat for the next three weeks.
• Part of the remodel of the tasting room required that I remove cabinetry and add tiles where the cabinets were removed. In the process, I noticed a loose tile at the corner of the room along our exterior wall of commercial storefront glass. So I decided to remove and replace it, which loosened the one next to it, and so on, and so on… Every tile along the glass wall and the second row in had to be removed. It turns out that the seals at the bottom of the glass wall were leaking and the heavy rains had caused water to seep under the tiles. I suppose I should be thankful that the rains revealed the problem before I finished the remodel, but a one day job became a two week tile/glass panel project!
• Our internet runs on a private network with a few towers coming from Paso to our property. One is on a hilltop above our home. They are powered by solar panels with a battery backup. For six years it’s been pretty reliable. That all changed when we experienced just about eight weeks of rain and little sun. Our internet alternated between not functioning or barely limping along for much of January and February.
• One Friday in February, we invited some out of town guests over for dinner. Of course, the day they were to arrive, our neighborhood lost power. Our home is solar powered with a back up generator. Whenever we’ve lost power in the past, the generator did it’s job, but not this time. The battery died. Our guests arrived to a dark house on a stormy night, Paula cooked much of the dinner on the outside barbecue (in the rain), and we enjoyed the evening by candlelight.
• We were supposed to take delivery of a thousand vines at the end of January to replant plants that had died in a number of our blocks. Being dry-farmers, we typically plant after some early rains and well before the winter rains end. This allows the plants to get properly rooted before the hot summer months. Fat chance this winter! As of the end of March, the nursery was still digging up dormant plants and putting them into cold storage. It’s now the 10th of April, and we just got them planted last week. Unless we get really lucky and April turns out to be an unusually wet month, it looks like we’re going to have to break out five gallon buckets with a small hole drilled into the bottom and do a manual watering of each plant. Each watering will likely take about 2 weeks of work. No big deal. It’s not like my plate is full!
Be careful what you wish for! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I am thrilled with the almost 42 inches we’ve had thus far. Each year brings its challenges and opportunities, in life and in farming. The funny part of all of this is, whereas I was practicing my deep breathing exercises much of late January and February, suddenly I’m realizing as I write about these calamities that I find myself smiling, almost laughing. I guess, when it come to hardship, we have short memories, and optimism ultimately prevails. We got our rain; we survived the craziness. I think we might just have the makings of a wonderful growing season!