Friday, June 6, 2014

Water Water Everywhere

by Andy

Last night it poured rain. Again. It was another inch on top of the 4 inches that we got last Sunday, which was on top of multiple inches the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, which had just dried out after a 4 inch rain 8 days prior. Prior to that, the ground was still drying out from the lingering winter and snow melt. All this rain has kept us out of the fields and as a result, most of the spring planting is not done. Tomorrow is our Community Work Day and I had big plans for all of the things we were going to plant tomorrow. But I didn't expect all the rain we got yesterday, and now the fields are too wet to work up for planting tomorrow. Waaaah! Time to come up with alternate plans.

This has been the story all spring. Sometimes I have worked the fields when they were too wet, just because I felt like I had to. The soil gives off a slightly swampy odor and instead of the tiller leaving the soil crumbly, it makes it chunky. The wet clods harden in the sun and the fields become something of a ceramics experiment. This is not a good way to treat the soil that I love. Ideally the tillage breaks the soil up and it shatters and crumbles along natural break lines. Tilling when things are too wet causes smearing and slicing and undermines soil structure. Not to mention the soil compaction that happens when you drive a tractor over wet soil. But oh well, sometimes we had no other choice. Because our soil has much more silt than sand, it takes a minimum of 4 to 5 days dry out enough to work, after it is saturated. Silt particles are small and the soil retains water, which is usually a good thing in droughty times, not so much in monsoon season.

The garden at the Farmstead dries out slower than the big field by the Homestead. In fact we have only had one day this spring that I have been able to dig the garden soil in good conscience. While we have been waiting for the garden to dry out, the weeds have been proliferating. There is so much lawn grass in the garden that I think we could undercut it and sell sod this year instead of vegetables. Where in other years, we would be almost finished planting the garden, this year we have seeds or plants in only 10% of the beds. There are many plants waiting to go into the garden: herbs, cut flowers, green beans, lettuce, beets, kale, chard, more. Soon.

The big field by the Homestead is doing a little better. We were able to put all the onions and leeks in next to the garlic. This is the first year that all of our alliums are in the big field. Then we had Class F come out on a muddy day and jab the potatoes in by hand into a muddy field. Other groups followed suit, as more potatoes went into the muddy field. The children used sticks to dig holes and used their hands to break up clods of dirt in order to cover the potatoes up one-by-one with soil. We went back in time to imitate the first Andean agriculturalists. The same methodology was used by Class C children to plant tomatoes this Tuesday. Katie and I finally planted some of the pumpkins yesterday. We have alot planted, but there is much more waiting to go into the big field: cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, corn, dry beans, melons, and winter squash.

Next week I have faith that the soil will dry out and our summer garden intern, Sarah Champeau, and I will go nuts planting everything we can. Katie and Donna will join in. Our late planting won't affect our harvests too much, because our harvest season is skewed to favor crops that are ready in fall and we deemphasize the summer harvests. So it is not as distressing as it might be. For now, I am watching the sun shine and hoping that the predicted rains for this weekend will miss us. There is always work to do on the farm while we wait for the soil to dry. None of the school groups who came out this spring suffered for lack of meaningful work.

There is always a bright side. The perennial crops seem to be thriving in the wet spring: the orchard trees, the blueberries, the raspberries, the asparagus. We have cover crops on over half of the big field. Winter rye and oats cover much of the field. Those cover crops are growing exuberantly in response to the rains, and they are also preventing erosion from the pounding rains. The cover crops will improve the soil for next year. The garlic is thriving in the big field, despite my concerns about never having planted it there before. This spring, we planted hundreds of native plants into the forest and prairie. Those new plants were watered by rain several times, to welcome well them into their new homes. The forests are lush and green. The rain is neutral. It just forces us humans to respond by altering our plans.

This is a hard spring for me personally to be so far behind on the planting. As I prepare to move to California, I want to leave the Land School gardens thriving and bountiful. I envision an abundant garden bursting with produce and flowers, and no weeds at all. Instead I look to the garden and I see a swampy, weedy, muddy, unplanted field. I know that most of California is in a prolonged drought, and I can appreciate the ironic soggy send-off that the Wisconsin weather is giving me.

No comments:

Post a Comment