Heat + Drought + Pests = Exhaustion

Note from Michelle: It’s been a while since our last post. Even at his busiest, Cam usually finds the time to unwind in front of the computer screen and type out a post. As many of our readers know, we run a CSA (community supported/shared agriculture) during the growing season and we grow enough vegetables for about 30 member families. Beginning in late winter/early spring we start seeds, we spend the spring preparing and planting our many gardens and then during the summer months we weed and water and harvest and provide a box of fresh veggies once a week to our members.

This summer has been a bit different. Here’s a note that Cam wrote to our members. He writes an update 4 times over the course of the growing season. This was Week #8 so we are halfway through our CSA.

 

Hey Everyone

Are we having fun with this drought yet? I’m not!

In my last update a month ago I said that I had heard the drought was the worst since 1959, the year I was born. Now Michelle tells me that it’s the worst since 1888, the year our farmhouse was built. (http://www.thewhig.com/2016/08/10/region-in-midst-of-driest-summer-since-1888) I have this funny feeling somehow I’m responsible for the thing. We have had no rain since my last report, including no thunderstorms. They have all missed us, although 10 millimeters of rain when you need 80 would be inconsequential at this point. It just would have been a nice dust suppressant for half a day before it evaporated.

Regardless, things are not going well here. We have 4 things to deal with. Lack of water. Excessive heat. Pests. Exhaustion. Where do you want me to start?

1) THE DROUGHT.

Both our drilled well at the house and dug well by the main garden are the lowest they have ever been. This is restricting how much we can physically water, and believe me, everything needs water, and lots of it right now. Michelle and I brainstormed on how to deal with this. We contemplated buying truckloads of water but we’d need a reservoir they can dump it in fast. We looked into a couple of reasonably priced swimming pools from Canadian Tire, but all the stores in Eastern Ontario were sold out. Can you believe it? Waiting ‘til August on the hottest summer … ever … only to discover they’re sold out. What’s up with that?

We borrowed a neighbor’s gas water pump. (Thank you Sandy!) The pond by our house is a puddle. The next closest pond 300 or 400 feet from the garden, which has always had water in it, is gone. We have a deeper pond we call “the hockey” pond, which still has water in it, but it’s 700 feet from the house. So this is what we’re using. So, it’s walk 700 feet through the bug-infested woods to start the pump. Walk back, fill up totes and rain barrels. Walk back 700 feet through the bush to shut it off. Walk back. Rinse. Repeat. Hence, item number 2…

2) EXHAUSTION

The heat is starting to catch up to me. I can handle a hot July. I can handle some heat in June and some early in August, but things got really hot in May and haven’t let up. I think Michelle said we’ve had double the normal number of days over 30°C. It seems every day is that way to me. Normally, running a CSA is a marathon that I love. This year, we’ve added constant watering to our usual TO DO List. I have a lot of drip irrigation in place, but with our set up it often works best for me to fill up rain barrels throughout the gardens with our dug well pump, and then water specifically with watering cans … and it turns out … again to my surprise, water is heavy! Who knew?

We’ve had the added bonus of our “War with the critters” in the corn patch which means that despite our exhaustion, nights are sleepless. Last year we had no raccoons. This year we’re getting it from the ground, the air and below. Birds and chipmunks are being very aggressive with the corn. Raccoons are back every night, and I think we have groundhogs tunneling in, because a lot of the lower ears are eaten on the stalk which I’ve never seen before. Which ties into our next issue…

3) EXCESSIVE HEAT

Over a certain temperature plants just basically shut down as a defense mechanism, and a lot of our plants are doing that now. This will be our only week for corn. I’ve had to cut our losses with the heat and lack of water and corn uses an enormous amount of water. Plus, much of the corn is showing signs of both heat and water stress, turning brown, and not producing ears. The corn in this week’s basket was irrigated but I can no longer do that. With the number of bean plants I had planted you should have had another week or two of them, but again, they have just packed it in with the heat.

With our limited water we’re having to choose what we think we can keep alive. Some things like potatoes and onions are done growing for the season. Usually they’d still be going strong but they basically have said “OK, so… no water…that’s it for me…I’m done for this year…” The harvest will be greatly reduced, but at least I focus on watering other things. I won’t even get into my inability to rototill because of the dust and hence the number of weeds that are going to seed, which will be problematic next year. The challenges just never end this year.

4) PESTS

Apart from the battle Jasper the Wonder Dog and I have been waging in the corn patch with furry and feathered creatures, insects surprisingly seem to love this weather … who knew that organisms that have been around for .. like …ever… could adapt so easily to an epic drought? The big insects like the grasshoppers and locusts, have always been problematic, but at least they used to have grass and areas around the gardens to feed on when they were chased away screaming in fear for their life by me and my trusty badminton racquet. But alas, there is no grass or much of anything else nearby to eat, so they are pretty determined to eat much of ‘your’ food before I can harvest it for you.

We have a good crop of fall brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower) in the ground and if I can keep the little critters off it and keep the water to it, we might have a shot.

The bottom line is that I’ve been growing food for 40 years and never imagined something like this. I have been very proud of what we’ve been able to provide our members for the last 5 years. This year I am having to live with great disappointment and I will not be able to provide the volume or quality I would like. It is always a challenge when you are working harder and feel like you are not providing an optimal end product, but nature is winning the battle this year. I have gone through all the various stages of grief like denial and anger with the drought and have finally reached acceptance. We’ll do everything we can with the resources we have to salvage what’s left of the season.

It sure would have been a great summer to spend at a cottage by a lake. What was I thinking deciding to grow food instead!

Thanks for listening.

Cam

The photos below show just how hard we’ve been working to keep everything alive!

7 Responses to “Heat + Drought + Pests = Exhaustion”

  • CJ:

    Sorry to hear of all the troubles, we’ve experienced pretty much the same thing, in 40 years I have never seen our river as low as it is this year. I mulched like crazy this spring, I think that has helped and thankfully the rains have come back to our area.

    Your financial and exhaustion levels not withstanding, I actually think there can be some good to come out this gardening season. I can’t even begin to count the number of people who have said to me that if there is food shortage, they’ll just start their own garden. I think reading the experiences of seasoned gardener such as yourself dealing with problems that are out of your control should be a huge wake-up call to these people. John Michael Greer, regarding people of this belief, has said he believes it takes a minimum of five years of gardening for someone to become proficient enough to actually be able to provide enough food for their family – and I’m assuming that’s under “normal” conditions. Five years ago I (and I’ve since learned many others) said that peak water should be more of a concern than peak oil. I dug two ponds last year and am working on building an old fashion rotary pump that doesn’t require any man-made power to operate to fill the ponds – gotta have water in the river though.

    It’s good to read a post on your site again, I hope you continue posting!

  • Catherine:

    Hi Cam. Sorry for your drought troubles! We are having a bit of it ourselves here in Wisconsin, although a couple of weeks ago the northern part of the state was Inundated with floods and some of the roads are still not passable. I’m in the southern half of the state and it’s very d-r-y! I hauled water jugs to some of the plants, but weighing in at 8 pounds per gallon, it gets tiring and I can empathize with your exhaustion. I am praying for all of us in drought conditions. Best of luck to you. Keep your chin up, Cam. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

  • Betty Bennett:

    It is a desperate drought all over this part of Ontario. We’re just east of Peterborough. This year I opted out of the CSA we have belonged to for several years and thought I would grow our own veg for a change. Bad decision. The CSA is having trouble too, but is fortunate enough to have access to a good pond for pumping water, so their produce has been less and smaller, but not too bad. We are on top of a very well-drained moraine that the warm wind just peels across. We do not use our wells to irrigate, although we have several rain barrels and a large area of roof from which to capture rain. I water early in the morning by hand and can sympathize with the weight of water. I was interested to read, Cam, that the plants eventually shut down, which is what I have observed and suspected was happening. I have dug adequate, but disappointing crops of onions and garlic. The beets are small but not too bad, the leafy crops bolted long ago and fed our chickens and our beans are growing but sad-looking. I wish you luck with your gardens and I hope that we have a good, wet fall and a snowy winter. There is probably not much in the short term that we can do about the terrible intensity of the sun.

  • Jean Stawarz:

    Cam, that’s gut wrenchingly sad and frightening. My heart seriously aches for you, Michelle and the earth. It’s bad down here but I can easily water my small city vegetable garden. Hopefully we are all doing what we can to conserve water, even those living in non-drought areas. It is our most precious resource.

  • This is crazy! It freaks me out too…what will next year be like? What will it be like in 5 years? I’ve spent too many hours watering, only to see it dry again the next day. This fall is going to be a major overhaul in the garden, to prepare for another summer of drought next year. I’m also going to have to pick more drought resistant plants/perennials. The farmer’s market vendors also have much less than usual (hardly any peaches/cherries…the ones I bought weren’t even sweet). I can only hope we have a very wet winter, because last winter was the beginning of this drought, with hardly any snow. I wish people took this weather more seriously, but unfortunately it’s business as usual for people who don’t grow food.

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Thanks for the update. I was wondering how you both were faring with this incredible drought.
    I have a small garden (big compared to my neighbours but very small compared to yours) and I knew it was supposed to be a dry year but I had no idea. I even purchased a 1000 litre tote in preparation plus I have another 800 litres in rain barrels and I just ran out of water for the 2nd time this summer. The last being this past week. Now using (expensive) city water. Pests are the worst ever and that’s in the city. We have 2 black squirrels, 1 gray, 1 chipmunk and skunks….someone in the neighbour hood is putting out peanuts for the squirrels who turn around and bury them in my (raised bed) gardens. Then the skunks come at night and dig them up. As much as I am upset with the animals, I am more upset with people feeding them….
    Yes I agree, my onions have given up as well…out of 60 plants there is only 15 left (dug up by the animals so they can bury the peanuts). The Onions just seem to have quit and are not quite full size…I am watering twice a day which I have never done before…Crazy weather!
    Anyway just wanted to let you know we are thinking of you in this very dry summer!
    All the best!

  • I feel for you guys, believe me I do. We are 45 min west of Ottawa and this is the lowest the water levels have been here for about 60 years or so. Thankfully we have a 220 foot deep well and so far it is ok. ALL our neighbours have shallow dug wells and most are now lower than halfway and everybody is worrying. The weather today said we would have rain all day, with accumulation of about 20mm. It rained for 5 minutes then stopped. It looks like the sky is clearing. Like you, we cannot catch a break this year. I water every second day, before sunrise to reduce the amount lost to evaporation during the heat of the day. Our soil is very sandy here and 1/2 down is still bone dry despite my efforts. I am trying to provide food for my family for the year and I am frustrated…. I cannot imagine what you are going through since this is your livelihood. I wish us both luck. We are going to need it.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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