The fickle face of farming

Stony Loam has a machine transplanter, which gives Dave Quickel the ability to plant four 500-foot beds of vegetables in two hours instead of four. And they do it sitting down instead of on his hands and knees. Courtesy photo

Saturday I came back to the farm after the farmers market feeling pretty whooped. It had been unexpectedly hot, and standing behind a grill for four hours had made it even more so.

It’s been a hot stretch of weather (hottest July on record, in fact), and rain has been hard to come by. August had started off similarly. And while the forecast has been regularly calling for rain, we have regularly been left high and dry. This has been a theme of late, and, while frustrating, it was not surprising. I have memories of dry spells going way back, and there is a familiar pattern. Radar shows rain heading our way, and then magically it splits as it crosses the Adirondacks, giving us barely a taste. Meanwhile southern and central Vermont have had flood warnings and excessive rain. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I definitely prefer dry to excessive, and despite the lack of rain our crops are looking great. It’s been California-style farming. Hot and dry, we supply the water, and things grow like crazy.

There’s a problem with that system for us, however. California has a massive aquifer underneath it and industrial pumps capable of pumping 5,000 gallons a minute. They pump so much water, in fact, that the land has actually subsided drastically for extended areas around these pumps. Google “land subsidence California.” Totally fascinating. Eventually they’ll likely pump the aquifer dry, and that’ll mean trouble. But for now they pump and pump and take advantage of the endless sun and grow most of the food for our country. 

The problem for us is we don’t have those massive wells. We pump our water out of two ponds that fill up over the winter when the water table is high. Our ponds are limited in size, so when we need to irrigate all the time, as we have of late, we drain the pond. Obviously, the solution is bigger ponds, which we’ll certainly dig this fall. But for now we’re kind of stuck with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is a big hole that’s 80 percent empty. It looks more like it does typically by the end of September. And we’re just coming in to what is usually the hot and dry part of the summer. 

So anyway, back to Saturday. I’m hot and a little cranky. I’m not too psyched to have to water crops all afternoon, but it looks like that is what’s in store. According to the Weather Service, there is a zero percent chance of rain, and Sunday and Monday are supposed to be dry and in the 90s. So time to buck up and get after it.

Just then a big wind gust came through. I could hear it coming a ways off in the trees, which was odd because it had been dead calm. It felt sort of cool and was coming from the northwest. So I clicked on my phone and saw that suddenly Charlotte was under a severe thunderstorm warning. “Warning” in Weather Service speak means the storm is on the radar and is about to move over that particular area. Maybe, just maybe, we were going to catch a break. I raced out into the field to take a better look, and sure enough there was a black line of clouds closing in. 

I went back to the pole barn, pulled out a chair, grabbed a beer and put on some Jimi Hendrix. And then it started to rain. A nice heavy, steady rain. It was raining so hard on the metal roof I had to crank Jimi up. Just like that I’d been delivered a reprieve for the afternoon. Watering was going to be a freebie today, and that was a break I was thankful for. I stood out in the driveway until I was absolutely soaked. Nice to finally catch a break.