Celeste recently asked where was the long, lush grass that covered the ranch when we acquired it in 2009. Had we mowed too often? Was it necessary to fertilize the meadow grass?
A recent article in The Press Democrat told us what should have been obvious looking out over the golden foothills. We haven’t had significant rainfall for the last two years, and we’re looking at a possible third year. The scary word – drought – is sneaking into local conversations.
In 2009 and 2010, wet winters found us rushing to the hardware store for rain gear. We bought hay bales and wattles to direct the streaming water while trying to hold back the delicate topsoil. Today, the hay remains stacked and the wattles, while in place, are dry. Every morning we wake to cold but brilliant sunshine and clear skies. We watch the slowly gathering clouds melt away toward evening and view bright stars undimmed by impending rain.
The lack of rain and fear of serious drought raises obvious concerns for our community. Livestock that usually feed on the tall grasses this time of year need to be fed with hay purchased by the ranchers, creating extra operating expenses. Reduced water flowing to rivers can affect the fish that live and breed there, including the endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.
For farmers, seeds for winter cover crops that were sown a couple months ago have set, thanks to some early season rain, but the recent cold, dry spell may keep the seeds from germinating. Winter cover crops help to keep the soil loose, prevent water runoff, add organic matter back into the soil and control winter weeds.
Although we just recently dug a deep agriculture well, we still have to be aware of reduced availability and irrigate responsibly. The common greeting this holiday season seems to be “Merry Christmas and pray for rain!”