Setback from last year’s sudden winter

Agriculture is a fierce master. Whether you are rich or poor, meek or strong, an experienced farmer or a novice, the weather rules with impartial disregard. I would dance naked in the field under a full moon if I thought it would help. Hell, I’d dance naked in downtown Perth at midday on a holiday weekend if it would make a difference.

I was out west visiting family when my babies broke dormancy (and when I wrote my last blog). When I returned home and raced out to the field, anticipating to see multitudes of blooms destined to become my first salable blueberries, realization dawned with gut wrenching despair. I saw, instead, row after row of brown, dead branches.

Normally in the fall, blueberry plants turn a gorgeous red as they ‘harden’ for winter. But last year our record breaking heat wave was immediately followed by a killing frost and green leaves gasped their last breath and fluttered to the ground, without the benefit of turning red. Being the novice that I am, I wondered at the time if that would have an impact, but it’s impossible to predict what damage will be done until the plants break dormancy in the spring. That they didn’t get a chance to harden properly, combined with the fact that some stuff didn’t get done last year on account of my broken ankles, the result this spring was disheartening, to say the least.

My friend and mentor Charles (who owns Wilmot Orchards in Newcastle) says that the roots are not dead – that the bushes will grow back, it will just take a couple of years. Two years feels like a long time to me. I know that everyone whose lives are intimately invested in agriculture goes through things like this in one form or another. I have a coaster that reads – we can’t direct the wind, we can only adjust our sails. Well the wind had died and my sails were flapping loose.

After mourning came acceptance. The heavy weight of despair was slowly lifted by a gentle breeze allowing me to adjust my sails, as well as my mindset. The only thing to do is put it behind me and move on. But I’m moving on more slowly. That’s ok – it’s probably better for this aging novice than riding the waves at 50 knots pushed by a gale force wind. I will get as much of the netting done as I can but with so much crop devastation, it’s less urgent. I also have more planting to work on. It will all get done, as my friend Nancy says, in the fullness of time. I’m practicing staying in the present and taking it day by day. The bittersweet moral of this story is – you know what’s coming – don’t count your blueberries before they bloom.

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