Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee

                At 4:03pm, Friday, September 9, 2011, the sun appeared from behind the clouds!!! And by 4:05pm, it was hidden, yet again… The last time the sun had made an appearance in our mid-Atlantic sky was five days earlier. During certain times of the year, that is, most often in the winter, that may not be so uncommon, but in early September, that is beyond “out of the ordinary”. Nonetheless, such was the situation as Tropical Storm Lee made its way from the Gulf Coast into the mid-Atlantic region… and refused to leave.
                But this story starts long before then. And I will pause here to state that this is merely one, that is, ONE farmer’s experience in a particular growing season that has been ravaged by completely out-of-the ordinary weather. Across the globe, similar plights happen to farmers every year. Personally, I am well aware of that. What is to follow, nonetheless, is the accounting of events that befell my own farm, and how such unpredictable weather can “crush” a farmer’s best intentions. So, put a smile on, we are about to embark on quite a ride… oh, and don a raincoat as well!
                I will start with the earthquake that occurred around 2pm on August 23. Now that was odd. But that quick tremor passed quickly and had no affect on the farm other than rattling some of our nerves that strange day. It was on August 27 that Hurricane Irene made its way up the East Coast, remaining a “hurricane”, instead of weakening into a “tropical storm” as usually happens that the first out-of-the-ordinary events truly took place. Whereas an earthquake is EXTREMELY out of the ordinary, it had no affect on the farm. Hurricane Irene, however, did.
                My father informed me that it was 2am on Sunday, August 28, when the power went out at the farm. I live a little over a mile from the farm, and as luck would have it, my power never went out. Anyway, three and a half inches of rain were dropped on the farm as Irene passed through the region. Normally, again as tropical storms pass, what is expected is a deluge of rain and some heavy winds, but for the most part, damage from that extreme weather is minimal. The amount of rain that fell was somewhat average for such a storm, but the wind damage was something else. As the heavy wind coming from the east for the most part whipped around the fields, it mangled ALL of the tomato trellises, leaving most of them on the ground, and twisted quite a few plants into a very unfamiliar… mess. Nonetheless, the damage was not too bad, and as the sun reappeared later that week, not much was thought about Hurricane Irene, other than that electric power had not been restored to the farm. And of course, the tomatoes were split into unrecognizable globes of goo.
                Since this has all been related in another entry, I will skip to when the power was restored: approximately 6pm, Friday, September 2. At that point in the evening, I was personally quite drained of energy, due to the lack of power and the extra effort required to overcome that elongated power outage. However, the Saturday market’s harvest had been gathered, so, on to better things, that is, the Saturday market!
                That evening, I checked the weather forecast on the internet. There was a good chance of rain expected for the afternoon. The prediction was quite wrong, for it was maybe an hour into our farmer’s market that rain began to fall, as well as lightning striking quite nearby. As a veteran market farmer, I know CONCRETELY what that means… Almost no customers will venture out in such inclement weather. So, after having spent extra hours transporting water to the farm to wash produce, much of that produce remained unsold on my tables at the end of the market. Ugh.
                I returned to the farm that day rather deflated from the weather/power outage situation, but I had no idea what was to come. And what was to come began to make an appearance on Monday, September 5. No sunlight shone on the farm that day, for Tropical Storm Lee was arriving on our Mid-Atlantic doorstep…
                September 5: One inch of rain fell on the farm. All in all, in was a moderate day. The temperature reached the mid-Seventies, and the wind was not severe. I was able to harvest for the Tuesday CSA share with little difficulty, although the site of the ravaged tomato plants as a result of Hurricane Irene was quite disconcerting.
                September 6: Over night, the temperature dropped noticeably. As rain fell sporadically, and sometimes fiercely, throughout the day, that temperature did not raise much. The high was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, quite a low temperature for the beginning of September. It was at that point, as the temperature remained so low, that I first had that “inkling” that the farm situation was in for something quite drastic. From my experience, such constant low temperature, combined with constant moisture leads to one thing… disease. (On plants that is.) While only two more inches of rain fell upon the farm that day, I was quickly surmising that there was much damage, as yet unseen, that would be quite visible on the produce… should the sun ever shine again on that produce!
                September 7: Wednesday. It was the day to harvest for the Thursday CSA shares. And what a miserable day that was. Nonetheless, I must assert that I have lived through similar days countless times throughout my farming experience. It was a day of constant rain. My boots were saturated within minutes, but the fields were still able to be harvested. As a farmer, you “suck it up”. You “deal with it”. Rain saturates every inch of your skin, but you “gotta do what you gotta do”. Again, I am used to that. But this repetition was on day three! Trudging through mud in early September is definitely not a normal occurrence. But the CSA shares were harvested, the temperature remained cold for September, and after the day had passed, another 3 ¾ inches had fallen on the farm.
                September 8:  Thursday was an absolute deluge. Rain fell and fell and fell. The temperature remained in the 60s, and there was simply nothing that could be done. At that point over ten inches had fallen on the farm over the last couple of days. Every step taken upon grass was akin to stepping into a marsh. Admittedly, I did little stepping that day. The day was for naught, that is, for farming purposes. Oh when would the sun shine again? As that miserable day ended, another four inches of rain had fallen on the farm.
                September 9: Friday. Day 5 without sunlight. It was harvest day for the Saturday farmer’s market. And it was still early September. Oh, how to explain the dismay over not being able to achieve that goal! The rain, for the most part had passed, but the last deluge that fell overnight ravaged the fields in a manner I have never witnessed before. My experience relates how excessive rainfall will result in some erosion from certain rows. Since my fields are on low lying ground, this is expected. And also planned for! But Friday revealed something quite different than ANYTHING I have ever witnessed on the farm.
                The first thing that struck me, as I attempted to walk down a particular hillside to a field in the valley, was that there was standing water… on those hills! Every footstep landed with a splash! How was that possible? By the time I got to the valley… Okay, I need to pause here, because it was not a valley, but a swamp! To put it simply, in my forty plus years on that property, that was an unprecedented situation. And then came the harvest, or at least, the thought of harvest. In the front field, what normally would lie as dry dirt had been transformed into quicksand. Literally! I learned that quite quickly when I thought I was stepping on solid, that is, compacted soil, and my boot quickly sunk ten inches into the mud in an instant! I remember oh so clearly looking at red beets, eggplant, beans, etc., and realizing that there was no possible way to harvest that produce in that quicksand/mud.
                Amazing! It was so incredibly humbling to witness what Tropical Storm Lee delivered to the farm. Over 11 ½ inches of rain had fallen on the farm by the time Tropical Storm Lee finally left the region. That was truly unprecedented in my lifetime. And by the time the rain had stopped, I felt like a boxer after being pummeled relentlessly for rounds, backed up against the ropes… just waiting for the bell to sound the ending of the round.
                At 4:03pm last Friday, that bell sounded. The sun broke through the clouds! The round had ended! But alas, that was not the end of the fight! There are many, many more rounds left to endure! So, battered, bruised and extremely tired, the bell is sounding for the next round…

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