Broad Valley Orchard

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Water Weary


I last wrote as Hurricane Irene rolled up the Coast.  She was followed by the soggy remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which degenerated into a dreaded ‘Cut-off Low”.  Now other tropically spawned slop storms gather in the Intra-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) off the Azores, and head toward Florida and up our East Coast, and another cut-off low sets up over us.

The result is that we have already had a foot of rain in September, with a week to go.   Our mountain valley normally gets 42 inches of rain per year, and we already have 61″. I have been keeping rain and snow fall records for a couple decades, and this is the third wettest year yet, and should eclipse the 64″ that we had in 2008, a quite active hurricane year.

The highest (70″) we have had was 1996, and a foot of that H2O came as winter snow melt in the mega-storms caused by Mt. Pinotuvo, in the Phillipines, filling the atmosphere with volcanic ash.  That year also had an active summer hurricane season.

But this year is best noted for our relative lack of ‘insolation’ = sunshine.  I have grown potatoes for forty years, and never had multiple planting of spuds completely rot in the ground.  Our sweet potatoes ( a crop which likes a lot of water) survived, but after digging, they are so water-logged (with little dry air and sunshine to cure the harvest) that many are expiring due to mold.  The fruit crop (except for Asian Pears) has been especially hard hit.  Three early ‘soft hail’ storms roughed up the skins, allowing rot and insects to exploit these bruises (an apple’s skin is its first line of defense).

The saddest weather story I have heard is happening to our local pumpkin farmers.  Many farms grow these to sell at harvest festivals and they earn a fair bit of their income from these family events.  This year, not only did they lose many punkins in the soggy fields, but the successfully harvested ones were so saturated (and a stored squash can still absorb water thru their skin) that they exploded!  My own winter squash harvest quietly molded and rotted in the field, without pyrotechnical surprises.  I found our few surviving squash to be rather tasteless = the lack of sunshine limited their sugar production.

And even now as the days dry out a bit, farmers are still fighting the mud.  Fall hay-cutting is usually going on, so the slowly receding sun can still dry it.  These new hay cutting machines are fantastic, but they are heavy, and if they sink in the mud, they require bulldozers to pull them out.

So, we are cutting back on our offerings to our extended CSA = less weeks, smaller shares, and (sigh) lower cost.  Looks like next year will be that way, too, because we suffered so much erosion, that it diminished our soil fertility, and we need to build that back.  So 1/3 of our gardens are going under long-term cover =pasture mix (grass and clover), and the other 2/3 will be under rye and vetch.    Live and Learn!

A Wet and Weary Farmer Thom

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