Friday, July 9, 2010

Haymaker or Rainmaker?

Another heat wave, another lull in blogging. The past month has been a real challenge in the weather department.  The extraordinary heat combined with a dearth of rain made the grass crispy and the new farmer cranky. Days blur together in a round robin of watering the garden, filling the drinking water tanks for the buffalo, pouring water on the buffalo, pouring water on the buffalo wallow, and then pouring water in me and on me. One of the two 85-gallon rain barrels that I use for watering the garden went dry at the beginning of the week and the other is only about a third full, having barely received any rain since it went dry weeks ago.

The buffalo have had the worst of it. They had pretty well eaten their way through their current pasture by mid-June. We contracted to have a fence built around their next, much larger pasture about that time. We figured they could hang on for a couple of weeks, nibbling every last weed around the edges. That would have worked, albeit taking the grass lower than the four inches I'd ideally like it at, except for the darn heat. Because it was so blazing hot, our wonderful fence guy could only work a few hours each day digging post holes and running barbed wire up and down the steep slopes of our rocky pasture. What should have been a two-week project took a full month thanks to the brutal conditions. The buffs had eaten everything down to the ground about 10 days ago, so I had to buy in some hay to tide them over. That added another fun chore in the heat--hauling hay out twice a day. They continued to graze on what they could find (e.g., the leaves on the lower branches of a large apple tree) and even deigned to eat some weeds they'd previously spurned.

As of today: relief! On all fronts. The fence was completed around 2:30pm and at approximately 2:40, it began to rain. Hallelujah! I've rarely been so happy to be rained on. I went about the business of cleaning out water tanks and the bunk feeder that serves as a mineral feeder, moving them up to the new pasture, and filling them again. A thunderstorm drove me inside before I could introduce the buffs to their new space, but around dinner time, I was able to entice them over the creek with the promise of lush greens. It was like watching kids on Christmas morning. Their eyes got big and a split-second later, they were tearing into their presents with abandon.

So, what did the trick? I think it was the fact that I cut the rest of our hayfield yesterday. While the grass was long past being great nutrition, I had toyed with the idea of raking it up for emergency backup hay. I guess I tempted the rain gods by leaving it in the field overnight. I'll gladly turn it into mulch, however, just to get the rain. Regular readers may recollect that it's not been that long since I was kvetching about the surfeit of rain this spring. Yes, I've learned my lesson. Be careful what you wish for.

As long as we're talking about the weather, here are a few other consequences of our strangely hot, dry early summer:

The edamame, which were planted in early May and are supposed to take 120 days to mature, should be ready to harvest in a week or so.

We've had a major fruit and nut drop. The black walnuts and apple trees are showing their stress by dropping a lot of their goodies prematurely, presumably to conserve energy. We're also seeing a lot of leaves coming off those trees as well as the tulip poplars.

The sourwood nectar flow--the second most important flow for our local honeybees--is occurring two to three weeks ahead of schedule this year.

The black raspberries have been big, plentiful, and continue to produce week after week. The blackberries are coming in huge, tho' less plentiful than last year only because we cleared so many of the brambles in the orchard and in the pastures.

Most of all, it just feels odd to walk on hard ground. Our land is normally so soft, so loamy and moist that it is quite gentle on the joints. I'm definitely feeling more than my age this week as everything aches from hours of walking up and down and across ground so hard it feels like concrete.

On that note, let me sign off with a word of thanks, not just for the return of the rain, but also gratitude for a steady, gentle rain that won't wash away our unusually exposed soil.

1 comment:

  1. You've had a rough time of it. Blast-furnace hot in Chicago too, though some brief rains to replenish our barrels and rooftop collection system.

    The vegetables definitely prefer mother nature's liquid to Mayor Daley's...