Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene

                Last Saturday/Sunday, Hurricane Irene rampaged its way up the east coast of the United States causing quite extensive damage. It was quite an out-of-the-ordinary hurricane, in fact it has been the only “hurricane” to ravage this far up the east coast while I have been farming. The following is how it affected my farm, that is, Nev-R-Dun Farm.
                To start, most of the time that a hurricane develops very far to the south and out to sea, by the time it gets to mid-Maryland, if it ever does, it is inevitably a tropical storm at that point. I have experienced a few of those, and they almost always seem to appear precisely when the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s market is open on Saturday mornings. Since I have a stand at the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s market, I have clear memories of how nasty such a situation can be. In fact, if my memory is accurate, it was during a tropical storm/downgraded hurricane, I think in 2004, that the last remaining members of our market at that somewhat remote time linked our small grouping of canopies together and discussed/enacted our coup d’état of the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s market, since customers were almost non-existent in the torrential downpour. To not get into great detail about that, we decided at that point, some seven years ago, that we would be a “producer only” market. While that approach was by no means a new one, it was quite foreign to Carroll County at the time. Anyway, tropical storms are definitely something we have experienced at the market over the years.
                This past Saturday, many years removed from our coup d’état, there were quite a few customers that stopped by the market. The big difference this year was that the big storm coming up the coast from the south had not yet arrived. Clouds encapsulated the sky, and occasionally a stiff breeze pushed through the market, but all in all, it was a somewhat pleasant morning and quite a relaxing break from the heat so ordinary this time of year. However, throughout that morning, a common question was presented to us farmers. “What are you going to do about the hurricane?” Yes, indeed, it was not a “tropical storm” heading our way, but an actual “hurricane”! Run! Panic!
                But that is not how we, at least, those of us seasoned veterans of the farming war responded. For the most part, the answer was, “Nothing.” Then, after witnessing the incredulous expression on the inquirer’s face, “There’s nothing we can do. Whatever will happen will happen.” It is a rather realistic approach to nature’s ultimate force. There is no way to protect crops from such storms. Whatever will happen will happen. We have been through countless situations where nature works against our best intentions, and even those not quite inspired by the “best”, if you will, but nonetheless, we are merely stewards to a land which nature will treat however it wishes. Perhaps this is difficult for those who reside in well-protected air-conditioned houses to comprehend, but it is what it is. So Hurricane Irene is coming? Hopefully there will be some produce remaining after she passes.
                After the market ended, as usual, I went back to the farm to get some work done before the impending deluge. To pause, from my experience, at least in our somewhat elevated area, and also somewhat removed from the coast, tropical storms normally just dump loads of precipitation upon us. There is definitely an increase in wind intensity, but from my experience, it is nothing to be all that concerned about. My intention last Saturday was to till up some of the rows to plant some more fall crops. After emptying the market van, I entered into the house, that is, my parent’s house, for they live on the farm that I use while I reside 1.2 miles away, to tell my father something. I remember closing the statement to him with, “I hope to get some rows tilled before the rain.” I then walked outside and everything was drenched. So much for tilling. Hurricane Irene was arriving.
                At that point, I was relegated to some greenhouse work. By the time I cut off work, it was getting dark, and the same stiff breezes and light sprinkles continued to fall from the sky like they had for the last few hours. I checked my rain bucket before leaving the farm and it measured one inch of rain at that point. That was all for outside farm work for the day.
                The next morning, the breezes were much more intense, but the deluge had passed over night. From my house, which resides in an oak tree forest, what passed by overnight did not appear to be overly intense. So, I made coffee, drank it, checked the internet, then drove off to the farm.
                The first thing I noticed at the farm was what I somewhat expected. All of the trellises that support the numerous tomato plants were severely bent over and very near to the ground if not completely on the ground resembling some form of dead soldier. I did expect something like that to happen, but it was much more severe than anticipated. Anyway, I looked at the greenhouses and they seemed okay. I checked the rain bucket and another two and a half inches had fallen. The deer fences were still upright, although some were no longer at a ninety degree angle. The row covers over the beans were ripped off, but still lingered near to the intended row, unlike past tropical storms where they were found hundreds of feet away from their starting point. All in all, the damage did not appear to be too intense. In fact, with more close up inspection, the bell peppers were lying on the ground which always happens after such rains. Chard leaves were twisted around in a vortex. Sugarsnap peas were affected in a similar fashion. But again, all in all the damage did not appear to be too intense.
                Then, I went into the farm house, my parent’s house, and flicked on a light switch. Nothing. Oh, I thought, the farm must have a power outage. That would surely be no big deal. The power would surely pulse anew shortly… That was Sunday around noon. When my father returned to the farm from an excursion later that day, he informed me that the power went out at two o’clock in the morning that Sunday. That was a rather long period to be without power, or so I thought at the time. And so, I went about some normal farm activity and eventually left for the evening.
                Day 2 without power:  Monday was a bit odd, simply because the use of water was restricted since the well pump was not working. But my neighbor, Kirk, bailed me out (kind of a weird term, no doubt) for I had the Tuesday CSA shares to harvest… and clean. He helped with the harvest and we cleaned the produce over at his farm, which still had power and is on the same road on which my own house resides. Those of us who reside on Murkle Road still had power. In fact, we never lost it!

                Day 3 without power: Now Tuesday was a bit rougher to work through. It was on that day that I realized how much water I actually consume. Containers of water had been filled from my house and brought to the farm, but only a pitcher for drinking purposes. Tuesday is a WORK day for me, which means that I tend to sweat a lot in the heat of the day. That pitcher of water was consumed quite quickly. That was when the ordeal of not having power at the farm was first truly felt. Instead of turning on a faucet for instant relief, travel time became a quotient. All of a sudden, daily activity on the farm became quite a hassle. More specifically, the transplants on my grow racks needed to be watered as well as the greenhouses. Thankfully, the fields were saturated, but the normal ease of turning on a faucet was not an option to satisfy those other areas.
                Day 4 without power: Wednesday was another hassle day. I have neglected to mention up to this point that we borrowed a generator from a friend to power my parent’s freezers and refrigerators. That was arranged on Monday. That in itself took quite a bit of time to navigate, but you have to do what you have to do at times like this. On Wednesday, the generator ceased to work. Yet more time was spent on activity outside of farm work. Nonetheless, I was able to harvest for the Thursday CSA and clean the produce, once again, over at Kirk’s place. As for the produce, I need to use an aside here on the tomatoes. They are probably done for the year. Every single one of those tomatoes were split to a degree that was unsalvageable by the deluge of rain that fell. That is the fate of heirloom tomatoes after heavy rain storms. And with those plants ravaged by the winds on those now veritably prone trellises, I fear those crops are done for the year. Hurricane Irene was their coup de grace. Perhaps, just perhaps, Hurricane Irene was more damaging than initially suspected!
                Day 5 without power: By Thursday, I kind of had the routine down. I filled the tank of water on my truck the night before and used that water to irrigate the new broccoli transplanting, as well as the new rows seeded of spinach and salad mix. The generator was brought back functional, and once again the loud roar of the machine echoed throughout the day. The weirdest part of the day was when I wished to eat something and my hands were covered with mud/dirt. Luckily, there was a bucket with water in it on the back porch where I could at least wash off most of the dirt. Its “organic” dirt anyway, how can it be harmful?
                The newspaper has stated that the electric company expects to get to our area to fix the power outage some time on Friday. That is tomorrow. We’ll see. I have left the farm for the evening as I write this. My prediction for tomorrow, that is, most likely, Day 6 without power, a MAJOR hassle day. With the harvest for Saturday’s market looming, and no running water at the farm to wash the produce… well,… to be continued…

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