“It’s going to go around us this time,” I said, craning my neck to look at the dark clouds drifting across the southern sky. My arms cradled tomato vines, gently pulling them upright. “I don’t know,” Diane replied, “That earlier shower came from the south. I think we just might get a little more.” She reached across the bed to hold the vines while I stretched twine beneath their thick stems, then wrapped it around one of the T-posts anchoring our trellis.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, fat drops began to fall. We’d had a lovely but all too brief shower earlier in the afternoon, just enough to settle the dust, and we shouted our hopes for another, more extended rain. Our cries of delight soon turned to yelps and exclamations as the surprisingly cold water soaked through our shirts and spotted our glasses. Halfway through the last row of tomatoes, we kept working, lifting the sagging vines and tying them between two lines of twine stretched between posts, pausing every now and then to pluck a hornworm from a stem and crush it underfoot.
We love heirloom tomato varieties for their richly unique flavors, but unfortunately many are prone to cracking and rotting, especially if their fruit rests against the ground as it ripens. Last year we tried to trellis on the cheap, using electric fence posts and baler twine, but the whole mess slumped over under the weight of ripening fruit and we weren’t able to harvest enough marketable tomatoes to justify growing these varieties. We’ve invested several hundred dollars in t-posts and tomato twine this year in hopes of increasing our ability to grow nice heirlooms for our customers. We’ll find out soon whether it was worth it!
I tied the twine off at the end post and, thoroughly soaked now, we walked across the two-track to check on our vine crops. We’re giving our cucumber, melon, squash, and pumpkin plants some extra attention this year, since space restrictions forced us to plant them in a field that’s high in clay and low in humus. Because they’re having a tough time developing strong healthy root systems in that hard dirt, they’ll be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Noticing several clusters of bronze squash bug eggs on the golden zucchinis, we made a mental note to keep an eye on them over the next few days so that we’ll be ready to take action to control them if necessary once they hatch.
Thunder boomed above us as we returned to the house, tired, wet, and grateful for the moisture still drifting from the sky. Anyone who has walked or driven through un-irrigated countryside lately knows that the land is in serious need of water. In some fields near us, knee-high corn is about to tassel and once it begins reproducing, it won’t grow any taller. For folks around here that depend on corn for income or as feed for their animals, this means trouble. Alfalfa hasn’t faired much better and already neighboring farmers are asking my Dad if they can have first dibs on his grass fields if the federal government decides to release conservation reserve land for emergency haying.
All this has got agricultural folks reminiscing about the drought of 1988. I was fifteen, distracted by a summer of driver’s training and teenage angst, but on July 16 of that year, I paused to note a most wonderful event in my journal: “It rained! It rained 3/10 of an inch on Friday and 1 inch 3/10 tonight! I’m so happy. I kept running outside to be sure it was still raining. It was so wonderful.”
Of course, that brief rain wasn’t enough to keep the crops from failing. Later journal entries reflect my parents’ worries about whether the drought would drive them out of the dairy business as, desperate for cattle feed, they searched for farmers with hay or corn to sell. Since the drought was widespread, there weren’t many. Finally, the government released federal reserves of surplus corn and my folks purchased a couple of semi-loads to fill our silos for the winter.
The 4/10 of an inch of rain we got yesterday isn’t going to save anyone’s crops either. Diane and I are enormously grateful that we are able to reach almost all of our plants with irrigation and so we’re spared the worst effects of this weather. But as we look around at our neighbors’ fields, we feel our vulnerability. Severe weather, an ill-timed frost, pest and disease outbreaks, a herd of hungry deer—there are many things that could quickly destroy much of what we’ve worked hard to create.
So we want to say a big “Thank you!” to our CSA customers, whose support will help us through such potentially tough times. By signing on with us for a season and accepting the crop uncertainties that come with that, you CSA folks make our fledgling business less susceptible to both environmental and economic threats. Like a well-developed root system supplying us with continual nourishment, you allow us to focus on growing a healthy and sustainable business, literally from the ground up. Rain or no rain, we are blessed and we are grateful.