Zombieland Comes to Sunflower Farm
By Cam Mather
I HATE JULY!
I hate summer!
I HATE HEAT WAVES!
I hate droughts!
I LOATHE CLIMATE CHANGE!
After 8 weeks of brutal heat without a drop of rain my brain is feeling fried so I’ve written a rant.
I’ll qualify it by saying that this post was written by a sleep-deprived, exhausted, pissed off market gardener who spends every day watering. Watering. WATERING! Just watering to keep things alive, and not very alive at that.
I’m thinking we’ve been 40 days without a drop of rain. We might have had a couple of hours of drizzle 6 weeks ago, but it was useless. So maybe it’s 50 days. It is a drought of epic, biblical, end of the world as we know it proportions.
When we decided to run a CSA I knew full well what I was getting into, but like most farmers, I have this crazy bout of optimism every spring that makes me think that somehow we’ll dodge the drought bullet this summer. Just sunny days and rainy nights all summer! Yee ha!
I should know better. We are in a drought-prone area of Ontario. The clouds come across the Great Lakes and pick up moisture and then they tend to dump it in Southwestern Ontario. I have come to accept this. But while I have always managed to grow food through droughts, I have never experienced anything like this.
This drought saps my hope. Each Sunday night I sit and watch the weather forecast for the upcoming week and it’s always the same. Seven days of sun. Yes, I live in a solar-powered house … so what? I need rain too. And of course this year we’ve had lots of days that are really hot but have lots of cloud. This can be good if rain comes from those clouds, but that doesn’t happen. What is does is restrict how much watering I can do because I have to produce the electricity from my solar panels before I can pump water. And if there’s not enough sun, I can’t pump enough water.
Last year I blogged about our awesome new air conditioner. The problem this summer has been the relentless heat along with lots of cloud and thick, dirty air. And so I’ve had to use most of our power for pumping water. All day. Constantly. So we haven’t been able to use the air conditioner as much as we’d like. Plus with a new dog and chickens outside we prefer to sleep with the windows open so we can keep our ears peeled for “trouble at the henhouse.”
So every day I spend as long as I can watering. Michelle gets out in the garden early, waters as much as she can and then heads inside to make breakfast and then deal with office work. All day long I venture into the garden to move the drip irrigation and the lines that supply them. I walk, and water, and move solar panels on pumps, and water more.
And I am exhausted.
I lose my appetite in the heat, but I need the calories more than ever. I don’t sleep well at the time I need it the most. Each day I get a little more sleep-deprived and a little bit more zombie-like.
All the allure of market gardening is gone. Now it’s just a grind. The drought has made it just about unbearable. We are still managing to provide baskets full of beautiful vegetables to our CSA members but it is coming at a cost. Our mental and physical health.
I say mental health because seriously, I’m starting to lose it. A drought like this grinds down your spirit. You can water and irrigate all you want, but the garden needs rain. It needs help from Mother Nature. Your psyche starts feeling as parched as the soil.
There are lots of other things I’d like to be doing these days, but I can’t. Like succession planting. And weeding. And pruning tomatoes back. And hilling up potatoes. The weeds are really taking over and the problem is I just don’t have the time or energy to pull most of them. I can’t rototill between the rows as I often do, because it’s just so dry that it will send up huge clouds of dust that was once my rich, dark soil. So now many weeds are going to seed, which will just make the garden that much weedier next year. If I even grow vegetables next year.
It concerns me when I speak to other farmers who are trying to grow sustainably, mostly on a small scale. They too are discouraged and exhausted and hate the summer. This is a bad trend for society. As long as the industrial-sized farms are getting their inputs of fossil fuel and seed and petroleum-based “cides,” things are OK. And rain. But if that ever changes, and the people who grow on a smaller less energy-intensive scale have all given up, then Houston we have a problem. I can irrigate on my scale, but a farmer with 500 acres of corn is at nature’s mercy. And nature is having no mercy this summer.
I’d like to think any day now we’ll get a good drenching rain, or a couple of days of it, and all will be forgotten. But it won’t. We live on Canadian Shield with lots of rock outcrops where trees have tried to establish themselves in the minimal topsoil. And right now it looks like someone took a big blowtorch to these spots. Dead trees. Brown grass. Leaves are blowing off trees like the fall, and it’s July.
I saw one of those climate-denying Senators on the news the other day suggesting “It’s summer, get over it.” He was in a suit. In an air-conditioned studio. He just has no idea. And yes, I chose this life. I could be living in suburbia in air-conditioned comfort driving to work in my air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office. But somehow growing food off the grid just had more appeal. Really, what WAS I thinking?
I remember sleeping in the basement as a kid because no one had air conditioning. It was a novelty. And the heat waves passed. And the rains came. And the plants were rejuvenated. Not this year. The heat started early and just keeps on going. And the rains don’t come. And the heat saps my energy. And the drought saps my spirit.
Sorry for the rant but two months of heat and drought have turned me into a zombie.
GOOD NEWS! The day after we posted this blog, we got rain! Thanks to everyone who sent hopes and prayers for rain… apparently your rain dances worked!