Last week we had to talk about the heat, so of course this week we need to talk about water. With the massive rain falls last weekend and earlier this week, we are facing a completely different set of challenges than too much sun. First of all, we want to send our concerned thoughts and well wishes to those in Ellicott City and elsewhere affected by the flooding and torrential rain. As farmers, we know how unpredictable and violent sudden swings in the weather can be, and we hope for a speedy rebuilding and recovery effort.
From the farmers’ perspective, too much rain is always better than not enough, but it does present particular challenges. We have heard from several farmers of crops washed away or fields left in standing water after the most recent rains. On our farm, we’ve seen soil erosion and washouts of the hillside next to our field, but not directly in our growing area. Heavy rain can physically pulverize tender or small plants, and we actually transplanted many of our fall crops late last week. Fortunately we did not see much damage (our young plants seem quite hardy!) but it is a concern. Wet, soggy, and humid weather can also be a issue for disease and pest control. Rain can kick up soil bacteria that affect our plants, splash infection from plant to plant, and standing water pools are breeding sites for many plant pests. Also, if water stands or floods in a field for too long it can cause a low-oxygen level in the soil, damaging plant roots and soil micro-ecosystems. One interesting note - the flooding of rice paddies in Asia is used for this effect - fields are deliberately flooded long enough to kill weeds and pathogens, but not long enough to kill the rice crop!
The effects of soggy weather also influence the farmer. A torrential mid-summer rain can soak us, and many times we can’t stop working to get under cover. However, if the rain is truly intense, we need to break from work to avoid muddying the field or compacting our planting beds. One of our strategies for dealing with moisture management is raising our beds above the baseline of the soil. This gives them better drainage and water infiltration properties, balancing the needs of the plants and the water flow. Water is, of course, vital for plant growth, and a good summer downpour cools things off and often gives us time to take a break. While the past week’s storms give rise to immediate small issues, on the whole the rainstorms of summer provide a vital service to the farm!
Billy & Sarah