Boy, is it hot, huh? While I’m not dealing with temperatures quite as high as in the rest of the country, it’s still been an abnormally warm summer for us up here in Maine. The human is melting, and the fur-person is sprawled belly-down on the coolest patch of floor she can find. In the garden, some things have given up altogether. No matter what I do, I cannot convince my cool-weather-loving lettuce that it could try growing under the shade cast by an old piece of lattice. Similarly, Italian sprouting broccoli, which is usually reliable, has just said no. Fortunately, the heat-lovers are going gang-busters. My pepper plants are rapidly becoming small shrubs, the tomatoes are setting fruit like crazy, the cukes are beginning to yield, and the zucchini has begun its annual refrigerator-filling rampage. It’s shaping up to be a banner year for vegetables–if I can get everything through to harvest. There are signs of trouble in paradise.
I’m having a devil of a time trying to keep my garden watered. We are several inches below normal on our yearly precipitation totals. Vegetables generally need an inch of rain per week as a minimum to keep things healthy and productive. Some crops–tomatoes; squash family members including melons, cucumbers, and zucchini; and potatoes–are happier with at least two inches every week. This year my garden has received an inch or more of rain in the same week only twice since June 1. Not good. Unless that water deficit is made up somehow, the crop will be so paltry I’ll pretty much have wasted my whole investment of time, electricity, seeds, and planting supplies. On the other hand, every time I turn on the hose, I’m aware that the price of my nice organic, home-grown veggies just went up. I do harvest rainwater in rain barrels, but if it isn’t falling from the sky, the barrels stand empty. They’re empty now.
Whether or not to water the garden is a bit of a dilemma if you’re inclined to view what you do on your own little patch of the planet through the wide-angle lens of the world’s increasingly scarce resources, particularly of potable water. We’re fortunate in this particular biome in that we have generally been blessed with ample precipitation to feed the aquifers upon which our wells depend. My town isn’t named Stockton Springs for nothing. It was originally called just plain Stockton after a seaport in England, but in 1889, struck by the example of Poland Springs’s successful effort to market Maine’s clean water to an industrializing Boston, a local resident managed to get the town renamed Stockton Springs so he could ‘brand’ his own water-bottling enterprise here. The business flopped, but the name stuck.
I’m glad the effort failed, frankly, because what happened to the Poland Spring brand is instructive. The business was started by the Ricker family in 1859, selling clay jugs of their spring’s sweet water to neighbors at five cents a gallon. From that humble beginning the company grew into a humming operation, one of the premier bottlers in the Northeast, which attracted the attention of the international water giant Nestlé. Oh, you thought they only made hot chocolate and candy bars? Guess again. Nestlé Waters is the third-largest non-alcoholic beverage company in America. They own the water from 50 major natural spring systems and manage almost 14,000 acres of natural watershed in the US alone, and they’re a multi-national, having acquired water rights in Canada and Europe, too. (Another of their brands is Perrier, the famous French spring water.) Nestlé bought Poland Spring in 1992. It’s difficult to find any accurate statistics for how much water they are pumping out, but the most recent articles I’ve seen put the total between 90 and 110 million gallons per year. Here’s a link to their website if you’d like to check some of their other brands, many of which are regional labels.http://www.nestle-waters.com
The scale of that kind of water harvesting makes my internal debate about whether I should be using a couple of hundred more gallons from my local water district’s aquifer to hydrate my tomatoes seem silly, I suppose, but I think it’s a valid concern. And it’s no good arguing that if I don’t use it, somebody else will only wash their car with it or fill a pool. I can’t control what my neighbor does, only what I do. So how much are those tomatoes worth to me?
A fair amount, honestly, and that realization makes me uneasy in the wee hours when I can’t sleep because of the heat. On a blue planet that’s getting drier and drier, what’s the responsible thing to do?