Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Penny Saved... Wisely?: Farming on the Forty-fifth Parallel by Jim & Diane Hunter

About thirty years ago up in Bellingham, Jim asked a friend out to a movie. Big brother John was just home for the summer from grad school at U.S.C., and asked to tag along. This annoyed Jim, as the friend was of the female variety. We were going to the late show, and as we emerged from behind St. Lukes Hospital, a beautiful sunset could be seen over Holly Street and Bellingham Bay. A couple of blocks down Holly on the northwest side of the street was a burger joint called the Arctic Circle Drive-In. "Wow, remarked John, "you guys sure are close to the Arctic Circle up here." As he recalls it, Jim is sure that he and Kathleen both rolled our eyes and said to ourselves, "SO.... " Brothers can be so annoying.

Eventually we figured out that scientist John wasn't talking about the drive-in.

Every year around the summer and winter solstices, Jim gets to thinking about latitude. We have lived on the farm longer than anywhere else Jim has lived. Being settled in one location with the same landmarks year after year, has allowed us to understand and appreciate where we set on the globe's surface.

If you drive south on Interstate 5, somewhere around Salem you will see a sign announcing that you are crossing the 45th parallel. It may even point out that it means that you are half way between the North Pole and the Equator. So what Jim is wondering is whether everyone else thinks that this is the coolest latitude around for understanding the seasons. For instance, we always say the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But at our latitude, this is really only true on two days of the year, at the equinoxes. Our property doesn't allow seeing the sun actually appear over the horizon at sunrise and sunset, but Jim's feeble grasp of geometry tells him that at the summer solstice on the 45th parallel the sun should rise in the northeast and set in the northwest. On the winter solstice it should rise in the southeast and set in the southwest. Such symmetry can be had at no other latitude. Is that cool or what?

Also, our latitude is the easiest to figure out when the sun will rise and set (except for at the poles and equator). As we understand it the sun rises and sets at the same time every day at the equator. While at the poles it rises at the spring equinox, circles the horizon for six months and then sets on the fall equinox. So, half way in between, the sun will rise at six A.M. and P.M. on the equinxoxes, 4 A.M. and 8 P.M.(standard time) on the summer solstice, and 8A.M. and 4 P.M. on the winter solstice. So did everyone else have this all worked out, and we're just slow, or what?

So what's all this got to do with farming and saving pennies? Well first, we pay attention to where shade is, because often we want to take advantage of it to keep plants cooler. It's cheaper than investing in shade cloth. It took us a while to figure out that the north side of a building is not a cool place on a summer evening. But this summer solstice, Jim's got to thinking about latitude and photoperiodism, and that's a whole 'nother essay. So stay tuned...

Diane & Jim Hunter,
Hunter's Greens CSA,
Brush Praire, WA. (360) 256-3788

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