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When It Rains


AFTER A CHALLENGING SUMMER with surprising fluctuations in weather and too many hungry deer, we were banking on a congenial fall with plenty to harvest and bring to market. We spent most of August picking tomatoes, dodging frequent rains, planting lettuces, kale, collards, Swiss chard and assorted other autumnal greens, and erecting an eight-foot-high fence to keep out the four-legged competition. It looked like we had everything in place for a promising year.

Then, on Sunday, August 28, came Hurricane Irene. There was already plenty of moisture in the ground when she got here; by the time she left, there was more water than the ground could hold—big time. The result was major flooding and destruction. Nearly all the farmers in our area (western Orange County) were affected. Some lost everything and have essentially shut down for the year. A number of them, perhaps, will never come back. Others, like us, who farm on higher ground, fared better, but still took some very hard knocks.

By Monday, morning our lowest-lying field (planted with kohlrabi, celeriac, and daikon radishes) had over a foot of standing water. When I waded into this field a few days later, I saw thousands of dead worms. As the soil became saturated, the worms made their way to the surface searching for air, but only found more water. They drowned, no doubt along with a multitude of other soil organisms unlucky enough to be in that low field. How long, I wonder, will it take for all of them to come back?

Two weeks later most of the water had drained away but the field had an unpleasant smell to it, a bit like decomposing seaweed and rotting fish on a seashore. The kohlrabi, celeriac and daikons growing in that flooded field also expired.

Hurricane Irene, we were told, was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Who then would have expected her evil twin, Tropical Storm Lee, to come barreling up the coast barely a week later.

Lee didn’t bring the tree-snapping winds that came with Irene, but he did bring another nine inches of steady, hard rain to our farm. The low-lying field got flooded again, and all of our other fields ended up with large pools of standing water. Between the two storms, we got 16 inches of rain in 11 days. All that water harmed every crop we had, even those on the highest land.

Since Lee, things have not got any better—overcast skies and copious amounts of rain appear to be the new norm. When I checked the rain gauge on September 29, there was another 4.8 inches to record, from a couple of days. That’s on top of 2 inches that fell last weekend. This brings the total for the past 33 days to 22.8 inches—almost half the average rainfall for an entire year, and far more rain than anyone around here has ever seen in that short time.

Fields and basements are flooded again. Roads closed. Bridges threatened. Our fall crops are sickly and stunted. Weeds have overtaken the fields because hoeing under such wet conditions is ineffectual. Mosquitoes are everywhere. We’re still going to market but our loads are meager and consist largely of storage crops, harvested before the rains came. So far, the fall is not at all congenial.