Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Grand Inundation

The news here, which isn't really news if you are in the midwest or have watched tv or heard the radio this spring, is that we have had lots of water coming down from the sky. In light of that, the good news is that we are not in a low-lying area and are not bordering the Mississippi. So while we do have a large creek that runs through the property year-round, the foresightful ones who situated this house 160 or so years ago had the good sense to leave a healthy distance, both vertically and horizontally, between any of the structures and the creek. In contrast, over at the garden the water table has been within a foot of the soil surface for the past month or more. That's despite its placement at the top of a hill, which says a lot about how long it will take the conventional farmer to get his equipment in the field at the bottom of the hill a few hundred feet away.
We like data here, and everyone likes sensational data, so here are the details: we received 10.05" of rain in April. Not impressed? Keep in mind that we recorded 20" for all of last year, from April 15 (when we put up the rain gauge) to December 31. Still not impressed? How about the fact that from January 1st through May 3rd we have received 22.45"?

It's true, we missed out on recording rainfall from Jan 1 to April 14 last year, but one of our nearby market-farming neighbors can vouch for our missing time: He keeps a rain gauge that tracks rainfall through the whole year. It's a straightforward design, a clear 1½" diameter tube stuck vertically to a white board. He puts marks on the board to indicate where the rainfall was at the end of each month, then empties it at the end of the year (leaving the marks to compare to the following year). He showed us the evidence when we went over a couple of days ago, and pointed out that by the end of April his place had received as much rain as it had by the end of November 2010. He's never seen anything like that, and he's been paying attention for decades now.

But this spring is similar to the last in that we've gotten a LOT of rain over a short period of time, leaving us to wonder if the sky might dry up for the second half of the year, like it did in 2010. We're hoping not, but we're also doubling our rainwater catchment just in case.
The last time I got in the soil to dig was over a month ago, so we are in a tricky place for our planting schedule. The alfalfa, parsley, parsnips, onions and leeks would like to go in now, and we're staring at the corn planting date and wishing it a little further off. But the soil will probably be an absolute bog for at least a week after it stops raining, and the end is not in the ten-day forecast.
This causes us to question our assumed timing. For instance, should we double-dig before our main-season crops go in (between March and June), or should we perhaps dig before the winter cover crops go in (September to November)? Of course, if this year goes as last year, digging would be as difficult in the dry, dry fall as it would be in the wet, wet spring.
Oh, yeah - the other good news is that it was a fabulous year for digging dandelions and finding morel mushrooms.
I'll take one last moment to describe the photos here. At top right is a trench I started for a new bed, interrupted by weather. It's important to note that the trench didn't simply catch rainwater. If you dig a hole anywhere around the garden these days it will fill up with water whether it is raining or not. Next photo down, on the left, is a lakeside dandelion patch, which in dryer times is actually a path. Third, the 2010 parsnips that we replanted for 2011 seed. On close inspection you can make out water running from the further side of the bed to the closer. The fourth photo is of the biggest morel I have ever seen, found by friends while pulling honeysuckle in our yard.
And, last but not least, Alten has been preparing to deal with any water issues in the house. Routine inspection, he assures us...