Fresh Facts 20: Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

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Thank God for lots of rain! The river is full, the canals are full, and the recharge basins are filling. Water is going back into the aquifer instead of being pumped out.

Historically, all this water drained into The Great Tulare Lake, the largest fresh water lake in North America (outside the Great Lakes) stretching 150 miles from Wasco to Los Banos. As the streams were diverted, the land under that lake—aptly called “The Lake Bottom”—became the most productive farmland in the world.

I’ve seen it partially refilled 3 times in my life and also recently watched it become a dust bowl. The attitude in the upper stretches of the Kings River irrigation districts over the past 60 years has been to just let these rare excess amounts flow to the lake, but not anymore. We now have over 2,000 acres of recharge ponds in our district, and most of us have signed-up to voluntarily flood our fields when called upon. I’ve been told that even in a 100 year flood, our district will be able to capture all of that water and bank it for the dry years.

In the day, when the goal was to get rid of the water so the Tulare Lake could be farmed, a 50 mile canal was dug called the “Fresno Slough” which runs roughly from Stratford to Mendota where it meets the San Joaquin River. The San Joaquin flows to the delta and under the Golden Gate. On flood years, Lake Bottom farmers sent all the water they could that way.

Armed with this knowledge and a spirit of adventure, my little brother and I took an aluminum boat with a 10 horse Honda outboard from our farm, down the Kings, into this Fresno Slough, then down the San Joaquin and under the Golden Gate. There were 25 mph winds across the Bay that day… pretty dicey beatin’ past Alcatraz in a 12 foot aluminum boat. We pulled the plug out of the back so the waves coming over the bow could flow out the stern (You dig those nautical terms—bow and stern–don’t you). Today they’d probably think we were up to no good and send the coast guard to arrest us. Then, they probably just looked out and said: ‘Look at those two stupid hicks; 2 /1 they don’t make it!’ Oh, and for clarity, under the Golden Gate means like 5 feet past the western edge then back to the Presidio.

As I drive around, it’s really cool to see how the organic farms soak-up the rain. Two inches a day just soaks right in, and the next day, the pruners are able to get right back to work.

Here’s what’s going on. Organic soil is alive; it’s the foundation of all we do. It’s full not only of worms you can see, but microbes you can’t. I’ve been told there are more microbes in a double handful of organic soil than there are people on earth, and all this biological activity opens the soil and keeps it open.

But wait, there’s more! While the rain water isn’t trapped above ground (which causes an anaerobic souring) but just passes through, because of all the built-up organic matter, there is actually more water available for our crops; kind of a sponge effect.

Thank God for lots of rain and eat healthy!

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Categories: Fresh Facts , Newsletter

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Your farmer Vernon Peterson grows organic stone fruit and chickens along the Kings River in Kingsburg, California.

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