vineyardbareIsak Dineson, in her wonderful memoir of her time on an African coffee plantation, has a beautiful anecdote about a time she was working in the fields with her Kikuyu laborers. She was singing to them with made up songs with silly rhymes. Apparently, the Kikuyu had no tradition of rhyming and some of the younger ones clustered around her in amazement, calling: “Talk like rain, again. Talk like rain!” She concluded that, in a semi-arid country where lives and crops hung on whether the rains arrived when expected, likening anything to rain meant it was wonderful and a bit unexpected. Here in Sonoma, we’re in solidarity with the Kikuyu. In normal years, the rains started in November with long drenching warm storms that blew in from Hawaii. We used to call them the Pineapple Express. These storms would come in back to back until maybe early February when they would taper to sprinkles. By March or April, we’d pretty much had all the rain we were going to have until November when the cycle started again. But that was Twenty to Thirty years ago. Since Climate Change set in — And don’t even argue with me on this. Everyone in farm country will tell you the climate has shifted considerably. — we haven’t had one of those rainy seasons. The Jet Stream seems to have shifted and we’ve been getting storms blowing down from Alaska. Those storms are cold and don’t bring nearly the moisture we need to last us through the dry season.

You can imagine how thrilled we were to get a pretty good storm now in Mid-November. It wasn’t as drenching as it could have been, but it was nice and warm and tropical. It may be the remnants of those typhoons in Asia, but out here, it’s all good. The rain came in Tuesday in San Jose and I made plans to rush up to Sonoma to see if we got part of that storm. All the way up the freeway, I drove in and out of cloudbursts, and when I reached Sonoma — Hallelujah! — the storm hadn’t missed where we need it most. I was met by my Ranch Manager, Louis, who affirmed that all our drainage and erosion control measures held up. Although the rain this week hasn’t been nearly enough to test the limits of those systems.

Although we are hoping our wet winter weather patterns reassert themselves, we are preparing for the worst. As we work on our new house, we’ve got plans for two large cisterns that will be connected up to our gutters. We’re hoping we can collect enough runoff to do a significant amount of irrigation without going to the well.

Here's Steve, foreman of the construction crew models one of the cisterns. The other is already buried and hooked up to the gutting system with a jury-rigged system of hoses.

Here’s Steve, foreman of the construction crew models one of the cisterns. The other is already buried and hooked up to the gutting system with a jury-rigged system of hoses.

In fact, the guys checked the buried cistern and it's already filled three feet deep. As Steve demonstrates here.

In fact, the guys checked the buried cistern and it’s already filled three feet deep. As Steve demonstrates here.

Later, we’ll connect one cistern to my vegetable garden watering system where a small pump will let me irrigate with that water. The other cistern will be buried above my orchard. I won’t even need a pump for that. Gravity will do the work.

Okay, the makeshift system isn't pretty. But it provided proof of concept. We can capture a Hell of a lot of water just from roof run-off.

Okay, the makeshift system isn’t pretty. But it provided proof of concept. We can capture a Hell of a lot of water just from roof run-off.

So we’re looking at the clouds, obsessively checking the long-range forecast and talking like rain.

These clouds blowing in from the Pacific over the Coastal Range and toward Sonoma Valley look promising.

These clouds blowing in from the Pacific over the Coastal Range and toward Sonoma Valley look promising.

 

And we're hoping all those clouds looking down toward San Francisco Bay blow up this way instead of to the East.

And we’re hoping all those clouds looking down toward San Francisco Bay blow up this way instead of to the East.

Just keep talking like rain!

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