The Dog Days of Drought

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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I am worn down. Nature has just about broken me. This drought has
gotten into my brain and is corrupting the files. We have had a
brutally dry summer and I’m getting really sick of doing Mother
Nature’s work for her.

Now I know I have no reason to complain. I grow vegetables on a very
small scale compared to most commercial farmers. And the fact that I
actually have the luxury of being able to water and irrigate means I
really should just shut up and stop complaining. Farmers in the
southern U.S. – now they have a right to complain. The images I’ve been
seeing on the news of withering corn and cotton and wheat plants are
really depressing. I can’t imagine being one of those farmers who has
invested that much time and money into a crop and then have to watch it
dry up and die.

But I do think I have some basis for empathy, and this summer has
greatly enhanced that ability. I grow in a very drought-prone area, so
I’m used to this, and I expect it. The last two summers, though, have
been particularly wet with more rain than we would have liked. On a
good note, all my heat-loving plants like peppers, eggplants, sweet
potatoes and tomatoes are doing great. The downside is that I have been
watering all summer and it’s become a real grind.

I keep thinking about all the people who toured my garden early in
the season, which was very wet, and raved about my soil. “Oh your soil
is great!” “You’ve down such a great job on your soil!” Well I have put
a lot into nurturing it for the last decade or so, but moisture
disguises the reality of my soil. My soil is sand. When it’s moist it
looks wonderful. When it gets dry as it is now, it looks like, well, a
beach. A beach with a lot of organic material in it, but sand
none-the-less.

So watering becomes a process of trying to return a specific area
around a vegetable plant to something that will retain some moisture.
If I’m using a watering can this means 6 or 7 sprinklings of water. The
water from the first sprinkling generally runs off, and then each
subsequent one soaks in a little bit more. If I don’t keep putting the
water to it, it’s just not worth doing.

This is the beauty of our drip irrigation system. It drips water at a
slow rate so that the soil can gradually absorb it. After a day of
irrigation there is a wide, wet area around the plants and it looks
like it should, after a day of rain. But I only have so much irrigation
hose and while I do move it around the garden to essential areas, I
can’t get to everything.

So now it’s turning into one of those “Well what do I water next?
What’s the driest?” Or, now that I’m selling at the farmers market in
Tamworth, I think about what is selling best and represents the
greatest potential income and therefore needs to get watered first.

I start by 6 a.m. but I can’t last much past noon. It’s just too hot
these days. And I still have to water all my berries which are done
for the season, but which I want to keep moist this summer so they’re
ready and better than ever next year.

Our flowers are suffering now. All the sunflowers are looking wilted
simply because I can’t afford to put any water on them. Michelle and I
love sunflowers, so this is a hard decision to make. But Mother Nature
has forced us to make this choice.

I find droughts like this grind me down. It’s not just the physical
exertion of watering, every day. It’s the mental frustration. A good
rain would allow to me to back off for a few days, but it just hasn’t
happened in about 8 weeks. Just like the plants I’m really, really
desperate for a good rain. And there is none in the forecast.

And of course Mother Nature really likes to toy with your head,
because during that time she has teased us many times. We’ve had rain
in the forecast endlessly. We had a four-day stretch with cloud every
day. Dark clouds that threatened rain. And they did spit a few drops on
us, but no rain. You know those images of crazy people waving their
arms madly at the heavens, cursing the rain gods? That would be me.
Lack of moisture is causing me to lose it.

This happens at this time of year every year we have a drought like
this. And in the 13 years we’ve been here I have come to realize that
it is the norm. The rain rolls across the Great Lakes and dumps when it
hits land in Western Ontario. By the time it gets to Eastern Ontario
it usually has very little left. I watch the radar on the weather
channel. The rains clouds get weaker and weaker the closer they get.
And I know, I should have bought a place in Western Ontario. But I
couldn’t afford as much land there as we got here because surprise,
surprise, it’s more expensive there.

So this is the hand I’ve been dealt and I shall deal with it. Each
year I bring more rain barrels on line. And I order more drip
irrigation tubing. And I become more determined to earn more of my
income from growing food, which forces me to buck up and stop
complaining and water the garden. And yes, OK, I really should just
stop complaining.

But it’s important that the people who read blogs like mine need to
understand that moving out to the country and growing food doesn’t come
without its own challenges. Yes, city life can be stressful, but being
dependent on rain and sun and the climate in general can take its toll
too.

On a brighter note though, the vegetables that are getting watering
look great. People are raving about our produce at the market and this
is very gratifying. And I took this photo of sunflowers that seeded
themselves in the vegetable garden. Apparently some bee pollinated a
sunflower last year that was either plain yellow or had the reddish
tones, with the other flower’s pollen, and this plant couldn’t decide
what to be, so it just decided, OK, some petals will be plain and some
will be fancy. Not a bad choice. Very trendy I think.

Michelle’s Note: Cam wrote this blog late last week. Yesterday we
managed to get a bit of rain. Not enough to make up for the weeks and
weeks of drought, but enough to perk up the sunflowers and Cam’s mood,
just a bit.

Sunflower Photo by Cam Mather. For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com