Rain, Rain, Go Away…

DSCN9101Those of you who follow me on Facebook have heard me lamenting about all the rain we’ve been getting lately.  Sure, everyone can be inconvenienced by rain,  but as someone once remarked to me, “I’ve never seen anyone so preoccupied with the weather as much as you farmers”.

Quite frankly, it’s because our livelihood depends on it.  Many people pay attention to the weather so that they can decide on what to wear in the morning, whether to ride their bike or drive the car in to work, and to plan outdoor events.  As farmers, ALL of our events are outdoor events!

Anyone who has a vegetable garden can appreciate that weather is a huge factor.  The temperature, the amount of sunshine in the day, and certainly the moisture levels in the ground are all important things to consider when growing food.  Now multiply that concern to a few hundred acres…

Here’s an example of how all these rains have affected us and others in our area. We have had over seven inches of rain, with over half of it coming all at once, about a week ago.  The ground had been dry before that, and easily absorbed the first couple of inches….it was the next two inches that kept coming that were damaging.  Imagine soaking a sponge in water until it’s saturated, then keep pouring water over it.  That’s what happened in the fields.  To compound the problem, the fields had just been cultivated (worked up), and seeded.  The oats and barley seed had no roots, obviously, and there was nothing to hold the soil together.  Any land that had low spots in it developed huge puddles, or, in some cases, mini lakes.  Ralph’s biggest worry was that the water wouldn’t drain away in time.  A newly-planted seed will swell, then germinate, and after that, it needs oxygen to grow.  Soil that is sodden with water has no air pockets.  No air pockets, no oxygen, and the seed can abort.  Fortunately, in the case of our barley field, it drained and dried up in time.

Washouts occurred in this field, with many ruts

Washouts occurred in this field, with many ruts

Other fields that had slight valleys or sloped downwards suffered from washouts.  Again, with nothing to hold the soil, the water washed away the seeds and soil in many parts of our fields.  Ruts were formed and the soil that was washed away ended up as a silty mass at the bottom of the fields.  As it happens, Ralph had planned to start converting two of our fields to organic production this year, by changing them to hay fields. He first seeded them with heritage oats, and was going to have hayseed applied right after.   The first 4 inch rainfall had caused many ruts, which would be too bumpy for cutting and baling hay.  So he repaired the ruts, and scuffled the soil with the seed drill again, and was ready for the hay to be seeded…and then we had another two inches of rain.  All of his efforts at repairing the field were undone, and it looks like we might not get the hay seeded after all.

You can see the washed out soil (silt) at the far right.  This will have to be scraped up , so we don't lose the soil

You can see the washed out soil (silt) at the far right. This will have to be scraped up , so we don’t lose the soil

Soil conservation and preservation is so important.  The soil structure is crucial, and different soil types need different type of care.  Any heavier soil with clay, for instance, should only be worked when it is dry enough, or you can ruin it and it will turn hard as …well, clay!  What frustrates Ralph so much is that he tries so hard to be a good land steward.  He knows that the crop yields depend on  many factors, such as existing soil bacteria, the structure of the soil, and moisture preservation.  Tillage is kept to a minimum, as is herbicide use, and the land rewards us with healthy crops.

When Mother Nature throws us curve balls like this, though, it certainly presents challenges.  Our earlier seeded fields seem to be holding their own, and the fate of our hayfields are still undecided. We will have to wait until things dry up to do a final assessment.   Some fields will probably have to be reworked and reseeded.  All of this takes time, and more seed, both of which cost money.  It certainly puts into perspective my annoyance at the seeds that were washed out in my veggie garden, or the flooding I had in my greenhouse.  And Mom and I don’t complain too loudly about not being able to get work done in the flowerbeds, when there is so much more at stake in the fields.

A neighbour's barley field is starting to turn yellow, where the water has been sitting for a long time

A neighbour’s barley field is starting to turn yellow, where the water has been sitting for a long time

Other friends of mine, who have CSA’s (Community Shared Agriculture) have hundreds of transplants that they have started in their greenhouses and are waiting to be planted outside.   If you are a member of a CSA, please keep this spring’s challenging weather in mind if the vegetables are a bit sparse at the beginning of your season.  As farmers, we face weather challenges every year.  I heard Ralph give a quote yesterday, that in a farmer’s lifetime, he may only get 3 or 4 years in which the weather was perfect.  Droughts like last year, excess rain and flooding this year, and even insect or disease pressure are all part of what we face every year.  One of my friends quipped that she may start looking into growing rice as a crop if this rain keeps up!  It is our sense of humour and knowing that “there is always next year” that gives many farmers the spark to keep going, year after year.  Farming isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.  And it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything else, despite the challenges.   Here’s hoping for sunnier days!


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carol Kraft on June 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I so appreciate you sharing the behind the scenes of farming and the challenges with weather. I just stayed up late planting seeds the other night before a down pour and likely will have to plant again. Gives me perspective. You sound like a musician. Gotta love what you do when the income is not always the main reward!


    • Thank you, Carol. I realized that not everyone understands the impact weather like this has on us and wanted to help bring it to light. I appreciate your support, as always 😀


  2. Posted by Vicki Beard on July 2, 2013 at 9:20 am

    What an enjoyable read your site is even though I’m only half way through it. Having been raised a farm and still an active gardener through the dig dig and more dig period, I’m thankful we’re finally understanding soil. My favorite book concerning soil health is the “Soul Of Soil” ISBN 1-890132-31-4. It states there are billions of life forms is a gram of healthy top soil, as well as “feed the soil not the plants”. I can’t imagine holding a billion let alone billions of anything being held in one hand. Truly amazing.


    • Thank you, Vicki. Whenever anyone asks me for gardening advice, be it for vegetables or flowers, I always tell them that caring for the soil is the most important thing. Which reminds me of an adage I once heard, “It is better to put a $1 plant in a $5 hole, than a $5 plant in a $1 hole”. 😀 Thank you for your comment!


  3. Posted by kristenburkholder on July 13, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Julie you haven’t posted in a while which, I suppose, means you’re out in the fields a lot, hopefully working some crops!

    We had a *terrible* June here in Maine – one of the rainiest on record. Being a novice gardener my expectations aren’t high – I had some success with seedlings I purchased, but nearly all my direct planting rotted. (no radishes, spinach or lettuce)

    I appreciate the insight into your life and especially all the information on soil. Yes, it hadn’t occurred to me that sodden soil has no oxygen pockets. So no wonder my seeds rotted!

    I know quite a few farmers here on the coast of Maine and I purchase regularly from their markets, so what you and all farmers endure is never far from my thoughts. Blessings to you and your family and I hope July/August makes up for May/June… : )


    • Thanks for the highly-appropriate kick in the butt, Kristen! Yes, we have been busy! I thought of writing, several times, but always got sidetracked. I’ve got one coming up for you! 😀


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