Bone Dry Down on the Farm – Just ask the dogs
A Run on Tomatoes and Basil

The effect of this drought on your crops

By Carrie Vaughn

It's been about a month and a half since the farm has had a good, soaking rain.  We've had a few frustrating weeks when most of your homes in DC and north of us in Maryland got heavy rains while the storms passed us by completely.  And every week it seems like we get an afternoon with heavy clouds and even a touch of sprinkling rain, but before the rain even gets the ground wet or soaks through our shirts, the storm dissipates and moves on.   

I don't mean to sound gloomy.  In fact, we all know it will rain eventually, and we're amazed that there is still so much to harvest when the ground is as hard and dry as concrete.  Where does the water come from that keeps filling these squashes and cucumbers? 

So here's the current status of your crops:
Your winter squash, melons and sweet potatoes are alive but aren't growing.  At best, we'll be harvesting them rather late.  Your tomatoes are heavily loaded with fruit but are ripening very slowly.  The eggplants are irrigated and doing better than we've ever seen eggplants on this farm in the last 9 years.  Wow! 

Beans have produced fewer than most years, but still amaze us when we get anything at all.  And cucumbers and squash seem to be plugging away pretty normally.  They're vulnerable to lots of pests and diseases, so even though the dry weather has cut into their production, there's always something that goes wrong with those crops, so we're pretty happy with what we're getting.  And have you noticed how you don't have to peel those yummy little baby lemon cucumbers?  Unfortunately, the young squash and cucumber plants that should replace the ones that we're harvesting now are very delayed by the dry weather, so we may end up with a few weeks that are very light. 

The okra don't seem to mind the dry soil one bit, and they're producing nicely.  We're not sure yet how the corn will fare.  Dry weather inhibits pollination, so even when the plants look good, the ears might not fill out.  We have our fingers crossed. 

We tried growing a mid-summer crop of lettuce under shade cloth and heavily irrigated.  We harvested it last week and it was magnificent--even better than our last crop of lettuce in June.  So we'll be expanding on that experiment next year. 

We have the capacity to irrigate more of our fields, and we have begun doing so.  But laying out the drip tape, repairing it as it breaks, and then pulling it up again at the end of a crop's life is extremely time-consuming, especially since we try to re-use the delicate drip tape rather than throw away all that plastic.  That's why we don't begin each field with irrigation every time it's available.  Labor isn't cheap these days!  Since most of our summer crops are relatively tolerant to dry weather, we don't irrigate them unless absolutely necessary. 

So we have our work cut out for us.  But as I said, we're amazed and grateful for what we still have, and we're eagerly awaiting that long, soaking rain, whenever it finally hits us. 

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