Wednesday, May 22, 2013
We had 3.91" of rain in June and July. Not nearly enough.
All farmers seem to do, besides farming, is complain about the weather. In 2009, we had 20-plus inches of rain during that June and July, and the moaning was as loud as the highway noise on Interstate 295 when the wind is right.
"You can't do anything about the weather," is the typical whine.
So, after the initial braying, it's time to think about what to do, then do it: Irrigate in drought and shelter your crops in stretches of wet weather.
That's because, in Maine, you have wet years and you have dry years, and you also have years that are both wet and dry in the same season.
This is one of those years. It was wet in April and May, delaying planting of seedlings, stunting the growth of those in the ground, and lulling us into the notion that we probably wouldn't have to irrigate at all this year.
The desert-like conditions of June and July called for lots of time spent setting up drip irrigation, hand-watering and getting our pond pump in working order. Apprentice Jon Ault was very quick to catch on to Michele's instruction on irrigation, and lots of plants survived that otherwise probably would have gone down to drought.
Now, as I write this column on Wednesday morning, we have had 1.6" inches of rain since Monday night, more than the entire month of July. The garden looked very happy as I walked through it, but there was hardly a puddle in sight. The rain was quickly absorbed into the parched soil. The crisis, so-called, has been averted.
But it's not good policy to just sit back and react to adverse conditions -- the debt crisis is a good example at the federal level. We are lucky we don't have any John Boehners or Mitch McConnells at Long Meadow Farm, we would always be in total paralysis.
In any single year in Maine, you can have both drought and too much water. Maine is also a sunny state that happens to have enough rainfall to also have vast resources of groundwater, a resource we like to give away to large bottling companies.
We are a sunny state -- not cold and gloomy as our detractors believe -- because our prevailing wind -- from the northwest -- comes off the Canadian landmass. That is unlike the rest of New England, New York and the Midwest, where the same northwest wind produces a "lake effect" off the Great Lakes. That means more snow in the winter and rain the rest of the time.
I've tracked sunny days at our farm since 2008, and the average per year is 193. We have had 131 so far this year with more than four months to go. That's good news for growing crops in Maine. It's also good news for solar energy and solar thermal projects statewide.
So we are moving forward by renovating our 26-by-96-foot hoop house -- changing the plastic cover, replacing the plywood front with clear hard plastic to let the winter sunlight in, and tightening it up all around to keep out the winter winds. We expect to be growing fall crops of spinach, greens and carrots, and overwintering spinach and carrots for the spring market.
That should help us with the wet weather part of the equation.
At the end of the season, we are going to have our small (30-by-50-foot) pond re-dug so that it will hold more water, and we will install a solar water pump system in 2012.
Thanks to a small grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture), we will be able to supply our irrigation needs in the big front garden and take a lot of pressure off our house well, which has been known to run out of water with heavy use.
This is our first venture into life off the grid. The solar pump will replace a 250-foot extension cord to the well house and a standard jet pump. It will operate only during the frost-free times of the year.
The next step would be to see how the same kind of pump could replace the house well pump, thus freeing us from being dependent on grid-supplied electricity for our household needs.
From there, it only makes sense look into installing solar panels to replace parts of our household power use for refrigeration, lights and appliances.
Welcome to Maine, where the weather is always sunny, wet and dry!
Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.