2017 by the Numbers...
Better late than never.
With squirrely and uncooperative weather from almost start to finish this growing season, analysis of 2017's production – like all the rest the year's work – got pushed back by several weeks. But I've finally had a chance to compile the numbers. They are rather uninspiring.
While this growing season's rains (33.05” in total) were not quite as miserable as 2016 (37.88”), they were still 40% over the historical average for the April through October period. And, as usual, the specific timing of the rains was what was most significant. While last year's deluges came almost exclusively after the middle of August, 2017's were heavily loaded toward planting season – we were already 10 inches ahead of 2016 in the short period from the start of April to the end of June.
Cold weather accompanying the rains in the critical third week of May slowed drying and made soil preparation for popcorn and peppers an ungodly slog, especially since both crops were slated for a section of the garden with heavier, more clay-ish soils. While both ultimately grew well, later rains and cool weather slowed their ripening. Meanwhile, subsequent plantings of corn, beans, squash, melons and cucumbers were all delayed because of the slow work.
Tomatos preceded peppers into the garden by a week, and while soil preparation in this case was uneventful, a nearly-two-inch rainfall occurred before the seedlings could be put in the ground. The resulting compaction wasn't the tomatos' only misfortune; a hailstorm during the ensuing week of rains pounded their leaves mercilessly, as it did the first planting of green beans. As a result, both of these crops were far scarcer in 2017 than the previous year – 8 lbs of tomatos was half the 2016 haul; a scant 1.2 lbs of beans was scarcely a quarter of last year's supply.
A cool, cloudy August proved a difficult follow-on to the generally delayed planting of warm-weather crops. Peppers showed up in shares two weeks later than last year, cutting their amounts by two pounds (for sweet peppers) and one pound for hots. Sweet corn didn't turn up until September, but at least it showed; the popcorn was still green when the last share went out on October 1st. (We hope to include some in the early shares next year.) The melons were barely ripe even on the first of October when we put them in the final share. Eggplants were grudging in their fruiting. Only the tomatillos seemed up to their usual enthusiasm. (They were still down about half a pound from 2016.)
Carrots and beets were both down (one pound for the former, five pounds for the latter) due largely to the depredations of a rabbit, about which I've kvetched in previous newsletters, so I'll leave it go here. Cabbage was down modestly due to slower growth / smaller size. We deliberately reduced the amount of potatos we delivered since the nearly two pounds per week over 10 straight weeks that we provided in 2016 seemed like it might have been a bit much; the 12 pounds total we delivered this year was more in line with the average up through 2015. Onions were the standout crop this year -- four of the five open-pollinated varieties that were provided though the UW Farm-to-Table study did exceptionally well. The nine pounds you received this year constituted a 33% increase over last year.
Beyond onions, fruit was the other bright spot in 2017. Currants, apples and kiwi all doubled in their amounts from 2016 while pears and quince remained stable at three pounds and one pound, respectively. The aronia was a new addition; though – with it's notable tartness and astringency – it's one which some of you may wish to forget. The concord grapes were a serendipitous add-in thanks to our farming colleagues Tom & Linda, but one we hope to continue in future years.
Overall, 2017 was down roughly 22% in mass from last year, to a measly 108 pounds. Calories per share for the season were down to ~18,000 from just over 22,000 last year, or a roughly 20% drop. Our calories-produced per square foot of soil for the vegetable patch was down too: ~44 cals/sf this year, vs. 51/sf last year, and 47/sf in 2015. That's roughly a 14% drop from 2016 which would explain a good portion of the calorie reduction in the share between the two years. While I don't have data on solar insolation, I would be curious to see if kw/sf delivered during our cloudy August shows a similar anomaly. I do know that we were 2.4 degrees cooler than normal in August, and cooler than normal to a lesser extent during July and the 2nd half of June. All of this may be retrospective rationalization, but it at least suggests the possibility that it was, to some greater or lesser extent, the weather – as opposed to, say, our soil fertility – which was behind the general drop in the ability of our soil to produce edible stored-energy this year.
As ever – and perhaps more so than usual, given the production-year – we thank you for supporting our farm endeavors and allowing us to demonstrate that, even when cranking out a middling 5.6 calories of food per calorie of fossil fuel (down ~18% from last year), we're still producing food an order of magnitude more efficiently than the mass-production system of most modern agriculture.