Posts Tagged drought

The Power of Water

Dying wildflowers

Dying wildflowers

Week seven here with only 0.43 of an inch of rain during that time, and that was almost three weeks ago. It is heart-wrenching to watch five acres of once-healthy  Piedmont plant life wither, yellow, and die. Those are wildflowers I grew from seed a few years back. By now, they should be full of yellow composite flowers topped by dancing butterflies. Not this year.

Leaves curl in a futile attempt to conserve water.

Leaves curl in a futile attempt to conserve water.

The most depressing part about the above pictures? I took them before nine in the morning yesterday, long before a ray of sunlight touched them. They are in a chronic, perpetual state of wilt. I doubt a deluge would bring them back now.

The great canopy trees only show signs of water stress when the sun beats on them in the afternoons. They are conserving water by dropping their fruits prematurely. Tiny acorns and pecans litter the dusty ground. And the massive black cherry that was loaded with fruits was unable to carry them to juicy ripeness for the Pileated Woodpeckers who love them. Instead, shriveled fruits litter the dry ground beneath it.

Shriveled black cherry fruits dropped by their water-stressed mother tree.

Shriveled black cherry fruits dropped by their water-stressed mother tree.

I’ve shown you the tiny pond on our floodplain before; its water level reflects the state of the perched water table in that part of our yard. Two months ago, it was full to the top and overflowing out the other side of its overflow pipe. This is what it looked like yesterday morning.

A puddle, not a pond.

A puddle, not a pond.

Here’s another view, so you can see how much the water line has dropped.

The water always grows very muddy when its almost gone.

The water always grows very muddy when it’s almost gone.

The creek is equally low, because it’s fed by springs from the same perched water table. A stagnant thin string of water wends its way into the drying swamp. This would be quite bad enough, but the worse news is that the ten-foot-deep well we use to water our vegetable garden pulls from this same rapidly dropping perched water table.

With high-ninety-degree temperatures forecast for the next few days, I doubt I’ll have water for my veggies much longer. Hurricane Arthur passed by a mere 150 or so miles to our east a few days ago without dropping a single raindrop on my thirsty yard. I’m starting to wonder if our sky has forgotten how to rain.

For the moment, we harvest and rejoice in the bounty. Blackberry patches on the floodplain feed the wildlife.

Blackberries delight birds, coons, and possums.

Blackberries delight birds, coons, and possums.

The abundant blackberries have bought me time to harvest blueberries from our bushes without having to argue too much with the feathered folk. The berries are not as big and juicy as they are some years. But their flavor is bright, concentrated, and quite tasty mixed with plain yogurt or sugared in a fresh-baked crumble.

Wonder Spouse helped me pick a full quart of ripe berries yesterday.

Wonder Spouse helped me pick a full quart of ripe berries yesterday.

I’m doling out water to the veggies twice a week, timing how much each plant receives. It’s not as much as they’d like, but it’s enough to keep them going. I watered yesterday morning for about an hour, dutifully counting the seconds of precious liquid each vegetable received.

Wonder Spouse harvested his first bag of potatoes yesterday. From his one-pound investment of Viking Purple seed potatoes, his yield was six pounds of perfect tubers, unmolested by the voles which plagued the crop before he switched to this methodology.

Viking Purple potato harvest

Viking Purple potato harvest

Today’s garden harvest demonstrates the power of water vividly. For now, our table is full.

Only a few dozen beans, but 8 slicing tomatoes, 4 paste tomatoes, 46 cherry tomatoes, and four zucchinis.

Only a few dozen beans, but 8 slicing tomatoes, 4 paste tomatoes, 46 cherry tomatoes, and four zucchinis.

Today we cherish the harvest, freezing what we can’t eat immediately, because we know that it won’t take too many more rainless tomorrows to end these gifts from the garden.

Pray for rain, ya’ll.

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Wishing Debby would change her mind

Sunflower “Sun Samba” Mix

Oh sure, the garden is thriving right this second. But I see Big Trouble heading this way like a runaway freight train. I’m talking about the 100+ degree heat wave promised for my area in two short days. Right now, the weather seers are calling for at least four days in a row with highs over the 100-degree mark, and five days in a row could easily happen.

I wouldn’t be so worried, if I had gotten the rainfall that so many folks in my region have been blessed with lately. But I didn’t; not even close. Take last night, for instance. A cold front uncharacteristically strong for this time of year blasted through, bringing a line of thunderstorms to just about every yard but mine. I’m really trying not to take the rain snubs personally, but it’s getting harder and harder.

My remaining Y-Star patty pan squash continues to produce well…for now.

Absolutely no rain is in the forecast during the heat wave. Only the slightest of chances are hinted at for a WEEK FROM NOW! That means my already-too-dry soil is going to be baked by a merciless summer sun without any respite except what I can provide with my hose.

Fortex pole beans mingle happily with Spitfire nasturtiums…but for how much longer?

I water my vegetable garden from a shallow well that draws from a perched water table overlaying my floodplain. It is not doing well; neither is the adjacent creek. Neither are the oak trees nearby; they are dropping young acorns by the hundreds in an attempt to reduce their water consumption. I am not sure how much longer I’ll be able to water my vegetables.

Trees that produce fruit early in the season have been more successful than the oaks. For example, my Florida Anise-trees bloomed prolifically this year, and their fruit set has never been so significant. When the seeds inside the fruits ripen, I’m going to carry them down to the floodplain and spread them around to see if new trees will appear next year.

Florida Anise-tree Fruits

I spent an hour in the uncharacteristically cool morning air thoroughly watering all the veggies. I’m hoping the good dose of water while it’s cool will allow the roots to maximize their use of the water, rather than lose it all to evaporation.  I’m hoping this will fortify the plants against the imminent heat wave. I’ll water again in two days, next time at dawn so I don’t melt — if the well holds out.

Every summer now I go through this agony, wondering how long the well will hold out. Will there be enough so that the tomatoes — just beginning to ripen in numbers — can be harvested? Will the peppers have time to ripen? How long will the beans keep producing? When will the bugs overpower heat-weakened squash plants?

My yard has been in a drought for so many years now that I do not remember the last time my creek ran all summer long, when muddy spots on the floodplain would sink tractor tires during mowing, when summer nights were often accompanied by lightning flashes and pounding rain on the roof.

I know the poor folks in Florida are drowning in Tropical Storm Debby’s rains right now. How wonderful it would be if I could wish those clouds here. Five inches? No problem; that’s what floodplains are for. Piedmont topography and soils are better able to handle such amounts.

By this time next week, I expect to be hunkered down in a darkened house as I hide from searing sun and dream, dream, dream of rain.

This bunny was outside my garden fence today wiggling its nose at the scent of well-watered veggies and flowers.

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Delusional Groundhogs?

Royal Star Magnolia blooming since mid-January

Word on the street is that Punxsutawney Phil — most famed rodent prognosticator of them all — saw his shadow today, thereby dooming us to six more weeks of winter. The groundhog seers in my home state of North Carolina — Sir Walter Wally chief among them — also saw their shadows. However, it’s my understanding that groundhogs in New York, West Virginia, and Ohio did not see their shadows. I’m thinking those are the rodents that got it right this year.

Who are those shadow-seers kidding? Winter has been a no-show in most of the United States this year, and the plants in my yard are colorfully testifying to that fact by blooming a month or more before their usual times.

The snowdrops usually show up in mid-February, so, of course, they are at peak bloom loitering under one of my Winterhazels. The birds “fertilize” them year-round, so they are looking impressively vigorous in the afternoon sunshine:

Snowdrops at peak bloom

I took my cue from the flowers and early courtship rituals of the cardinals, bluebirds, and hawks and sowed my first vegetable seeds in my greenhouse on January 25. I started a perennial rudbeckia in the germination chamber with the heating pad on to provide the bottom heat such seeds appreciate. I normally direct-sow all my greens — lettuces, spinaches, beets — right into my garden beds, but this year’s ridiculous winter got me thinking I needed to get a jump on spring by starting some in the greenhouse.

Here are seedlings of swiss chard, two lettuce varieties, and a spinach variety (Emu) 8 days after sowing.

Veggie seedlings eight days after sowing

It was actually too hot inside the greenhouse to put these in the germination chamber. They like cool soil. So I just plunked them right down on the capillary cloth, where they germinated in three days. Today I watered them with a dilute solution of fish emulsion/sea weed mix to give them a strong start.

In the vegetable garden, I’ve already prepared the bed for the peas, which I’ll be sowing next week. In years past, I waited until the end of February to sow sugar snap peas, but my gardening instincts are telling me that if I want any kind of spring vegetable garden at all, I’ve got to imitate the plants in my yard and get going now. When I weeded the pea bed, the soil was cool, but not cold, and it was not remotely water-logged.

It’s not just the warm winter that has me worried. I’m far more worried about our deepening drought. Last night’s “rain” put 0.04 of an inch in my rain gauge — a joke. My rain gauge hasn’t seen more than a third of an inch of rain at a time for so long I can’t remember. I am deeply, deeply worried.

So I’m planting my spring garden now. Those veggies can take a bit of chill, and I can always cover them if a serious freeze threatens. I’m pretty sure if I wait, I won’t get anything at all.

I’m not at all sure I’ll have enough water for much of a summer garden, but I’ve got the seeds, so  I’ll be sowing tomatoes in the greenhouse soon after I plant my peas. If I’m going to have any tomatoes at all this season, I’m thinking they need to get started sooner rather than later.

All the while I’m forging ahead on vegetable planting, I’ll be praying the groundhogs got it right. I’ll be dreaming of deep snow — silently luminous in moonlight, softening bare branches, melting slowly, slowly into thirsty earth eager for every molecule of H2O.

Dreaming of snows of winters past



Too much wind, and no rain

Technically, the rain gauge registered four hundreths of an inch from this morning’s ten-second shower, but it might as well be nothing. Especially with the way the wind is roaring. Any moisture added to the top of the soil or onto plants has long since been dried off by the 30+ mph winds currently scouring the landscape.

I checked on my spring vegetable garden briefly. The soil is too dry, but I won’t water until tomorrow, after the winds die down. To water now is to feed moisture to the hungry winds, doing nothing for the thirsty soil.

I am really starting to worry about the severe drought we’re in. Every predicted rain event evaporates before reaching my yard. Right now, the water levels in the creek are OK, but as soon as the trees leaf out and start pulling moisture from the ground, the water table will plunge — barring many, prolonged, significant rain events.

I’m not sure non-gardeners understand just how serious our drought is becoming. Food prices are already predicted to rise this year. One way to compensate is to grow your own food. But you can’t grow food without water.

For now, I’m hunkered indoors. Too many branches are being pruned by the winds for safe outdoor work.

I wonder how one goes about hiring professional rain dancers…


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