Glorious weather this last week and a little eerie, similar to when hurricanes are around and they suck all the moisture up into their circulation, creating strangely clear skies with clouds moving in directions completely different than normal. None the less we have been enjoying almost sweat free work and getting things done in the afternoons that we would normally just put off because it would be just too beastly to be out “there”. At some point you know the other shoe must drop and so it did this week. That shoe being the continuing and deepening drought. Sunday I was going down to turn the irrigation on and and found the gravity feed line, that we use to run water out of the creek to help keep the pumping pond full, was not running. This happens from time to time, especially when the creek flow is very low. I walked back up to the head of the field to check the creek and the line to find the creek not running at all. This is not the first time we have seen the creek dry up but it is very unusual (it has happened maybe 5 times in 26 years) and is a sure sign of seriously dry conditions.
This drought is one of those insidious ones where it is not really apparent unless you are trying to keep plants alive and producing. We think of most droughts as hot monsters that clamp down and it doesn’t rain at all for weeks. This one is tricky, a little cool weather here to lull you into a false sense of comfort, a bit of rain there to make you say to yourself “well it rained just the other day”. With the creek dry we are now down to using the last above ground water we have. The “upper pond” as we refer to it is about two months worth of water when full, but after months of evaporation it was down about two feet already. That was before I ran its water down hill to the pumping pond yesterday as it was less than half full. We can refill the pumping pond about 4 times from the other until it is dry too. Maybe six weeks of irrigation. So it goes, daily watering to keep it all happy, cutting off crops as soon as we decide they are done, checking for leaks, deciding which crops are marginal and maybe won’t get any water at all or we won’t plant for fall as there just isn’t enough water to go around. There are good things about droughts too, especially for us organic growers. When it’s dry we have much less plant disease problems because the fungus and bacteria that cause the problems can’t thrive in dry conditions. Weeds too are slowed down, they either don’t germinate at all or are not as vigorous and easier to kill. And mowing is a marvelous thing, mow an area and it lasts for weeks, some areas of the farm I have only mowed once this year!
Picture of the Week
The pumping pond half full, water from the upper pond coming in at the top right.
Made it to September, on paper anyway, sure doesn’t feel like it out in the field. August turned out to be one for the record books- the hottest month ever recorded at RDU airport by almost 2 degrees, that is huge as far as weather averages go! 30 days over 90 degrees another record and the second driest August ever. Now can we break the record for the number of days over 90 degrees in one year? It stands at 72, I know we are close. I pulled more water out of the upper pond yesterday and that leaves just one more round until that water hole is dry. With this kind of heat that is about two weeks worth of water left. If it cools off it will be just enough to get us to the end of our season, a little over three weeks away. Almost everyday I am cutting off the irrigation lines to more beds of crops that are just about finished for the season. Betsy is down to about ten beds of flowers now and I have mowed down the rest. On the vegetable side we are soon to be down to eight beds of tomatoes, twenty beds of peppers and and some odds and ends. It is just at half an acre of crops that need water every day when the temperatures are in the 90′s, but that is still just under 3000 gallons a day! Boy am I glad that I am not trying to plant fall crops, except that we do need to get some flowers in the ground for next spring and, of course, we need to get the winter cover crops planted in the next month, not unless some good rains come though.
I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last weeks newsletter about what defines local food. It was as I expected and I am fairly sure that it will be how the Farmers’ Market comes out on the subject in the end. I used the meat example because, for the farmers, it is the most complicated as far as logistics and regulations. I always want to try and solve the most complicated situation first, if possible, because then the simple ones are an easy fit into the new solution. Of course with the increased demand for local products, like meat, it leads processors and suppliers to eventually fill the need, but it takes time and money (and people of vision). Until then I feel the Farmers’ Market should make it possible for it’s members to operate viable businesses without compromising it’s long established goals and rules. As a market we have always been careful about setting precedents because once the horse is out of the barn it is almost impossible to get it back in.
Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce a miracle of shade cloth and daily irrigation
We’re back! Almost all of us anyway, Betsy is still in Colombia (South America, everyone looks at me and says “South Carolina?”) until tomorrow and hopefully will be rested as she will have to hit the ground running on Friday to prepare for Saturday market. A fairly typical break for the rest of us think. I did get in a few days of hiking and camping up in the mountains before Betsy flew away. Since then I have been puttering around the farm doing some small projects, reading, sleeping, eating and trying to keep things watered.
This drought is getting serious now. The forecast for the end of the week is for several days with a chance of rain above 50 percent but I am not holding out much hope. In the last two months we have had a scant two inches of rain. All of the rains have gone either north or south of us. The big creek is dry and we have been pulling water out of the upper, back up, pond for some weeks now. The last few days of near 100 degree temperatures have applied a brush stroke across the farm of brown crinkly grass and weeds, the true colors of a drought that has been masked until now by the cooler temperatures of this unusual summer.
Fortunately we do have enough water to get us through the end of this season, mostly because we only have about seven weeks left and there are only so many crops left to water. The little bit of fall planting we do has been going in on schedule, has been watered up with irrigation, and generally looks good. More radishes seeded yesterday and some Swiss chard too. The biggest potential loss is our summer cover crops, seeded six weeks ago they should be waist high by now but are at best ankle high, as our main source of organic matter to improve our soils this is never a good situation. Hey it could rain a lot this week and things will take off, lets hope!
Picture of the Week
Cowpea and Sudangrass cover crop, looks good where there is small irrigation leak