Peregrine Farm News Vol. 8 #15, 6/29/11

What’s been going on?

Finally a good rain last night but only four tenths, nineteen days since the last real rain, sure a tenth here and there but with temperatures in the mid and upper 90’s, they don’t count. We have to pump water unless it is a quarter inch of rain or more and then that only buys us a day and we have to irrigate in the tunnels no matter what falls from the sky. So lets talk about drought. There are two kinds of drought, one is a long period without rain that can effect the soil surface water and things like crops and gardens. That is an agricultural drought and right now we are classed as being in a moderate agricultural drought. Places like Texas (where in some places it hasn’t rained in nearly 300 days) and New Mexico where they are literally burning up, are three more levels down the scale in the worst classification of “exceptional” and eastern North Carolina is one level down from us in the “severe” class.

So we all can feel and see an agricultural drought, no rain and we have to water our gardens and crops more and more as the soil dries out. The more difficult kind is a hydrologic drought, when it doesn’t rain enough for a long period of time. Sure it rains and things look green because the top soil has sufficient water but the water is not getting further down to recharge the aquifer, the underground pond. We are also in a hydrologic drought here too but it is harder to see and feel. At RDU (I can tell you we are much drier than RDU) there has only been 70% of normal rainfall since the first of the year and 9 inches below normal in the last year.

We can see the hydrologic drought here on the farm, first as our shallow springs dry up that feed our two ponds and then finally as the creek that borders our property runs slower and slower until it dries up altogether, as it did last Tuesday. This is a major creek, with at least two mill dams (one on our farm) built on it to harness the water power in years past. So it means that all the springs that feed the creek have dried up too. So now we are down to irrigating with the water we can see in the two ponds (of which we lose up to a quarter inch a day just in evaporation) and water we can’t see in the underground pond from a 500 foot deep well we drilled in the historic drought of 2002.

We had a number agricultural droughts in the 80’s, some of them historic for the time, but we would always have wet winters that kept the ground water recharged and our creek never ran dry. During the last decade we have seen the creek run dry at least a half a dozen times. So what we really need is some steady, regular precipitation particularly during the winter to recharge the underground pond. The good news is we will be OK for this summer as we have enough water between the ponds and well to make it through but many famers don’t have the infrastructure that we have invested in over 30 years. If we are lucky they are predicting slighty above average rainfall for July through September, let’s hope they are right.

Picture of the Week

Our creek, Big Branch, not so big right now. This is the other end of the 900′ long line from creek to pond

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7/25/07 Vol. 4 #19

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.

9/12/07 Vol. 4 #25

We are in the middle of an interesting week beginning with getting the place ready for multiple groups of visitors.  It is hard to make the Kalahari desert look vibrant when everything is brown except for the small patches we are irrigating.  But we mowed what needed it and picked up and tidied around the buildings making mental notes that we should never have tours in September when we are just about to close for the season, oh well.  The best looking thing we have are the cowpeas we planted as a cover crop and which, in a normal year, should have been mowed down by now but have struggled to get this far, at least they are a rich green.  Saturday was a long but fun day.  The Southern Foodways Alliance was in town for what they call one of their field camps.  A group dedicated to the preservation of southern culture(s), from arts and crafts to music and writing but all sort of surrounded by the foods of the south.  People from all over the country were here, you may have noticed them touring the market on Saturday.  We hosted them here at the farm Saturday afternoon where we talked about small scale farming, the market in this area and tasted tomatoes.  They didn’t realize what a miracle it was for us to have the wealth of tomatoes we have had this late in the season, this season in particular!  We then headed into town for a large dinner with the whole group, having been awake since 1:00 a.m. we decided to head home at 10:30 instead of following the group down the road to sample the local taco truck, it was a sound idea.

Yesterday we had a group out from NC State which included two Uruguayans who are doing research in their country on organic farming.  Through an excellent interpreter we walked all around and showed them how we did it here.  Discussions about soil fertility, rotations, cover crops, etc.  They were also very interested in how we used the turkeys, integrated with the crop production, too bad we didn’t have any turkeys to show them this time around.  This coming Saturday after market, again, there will be a film crew here from Gourmet Magazine shooting some of our crops (up close I hope) for their TV show “The Diary of a Foodie” which is on PBS, here on Saturday afternoons.  They are working on a piece with Andrea Ruesing at Lantern Restaurant, who knew when we all agreed to do this that we would be in the middle of an historic drought.  At least it will be cooler and they always tell me they can do miracles with the camera and editing!

Picture of the Week
This is our creek, a good sized stream, dry for two months now, our house is 100′ to the left