Drier soils mean stronger roots and tastier crops
Kristin already reported that farmers in California are chopping down trees because of prolonged drought - but it's not all bad news. Many farmers are learning to live with less water - some are even cutting out irrigation all together - and the result, say some, is healthier, tastier crops that are selling like hot cakes at the farmers' markets. Just as organic grapes thrive in drier soils, so too heirloom apples and even tomatoes can be grown using dry farming methods. So what's the secret?
As part of their series on the water crisis in California, NPR reported this week on farmers learning to live with drought.
While some farmers are using innovative technology and iPhone apps to fine tune their irrigation, others, like Dan Lehrer of Flatland Flower Farm, are taking a more low tech route. Although primarily a plant nursery, when Dan and his wife Joanne Krueger bought their land it was also home to a lush, irrigated apple orchard. When irrigation pipes broke one day, the couple decided that it was time to let the orchard die - repairing the pipes would have cost too much money. But to their surprise, while some of the weaker specimens did die off, others survived - and something happened to the crop:
"They produce great fruit," says Krueger. "The trees are stressed, but the fruit is beautiful." So they started selling the fruit — also organic — at farmers markets as dry-farmed apples.
"Our customers went nuts," says Lehrer. "They're much smaller than a grocery store apple," Krueger explained. "[They're] denser, crisper, they have a sweet-tart balance." Grocery store apples are much larger, they say, because they're filled with the extra water from irrigation.
Flatland is now replanting orchards with heirloom varieties that will be even better adapted to drier conditions. According to reporter Sasha Kokher's original blog, even dry farmed tomatoes from producers like Dirty Girl Produce are doing well at California's markets.