State of the Farm, August, 2022: The Drought

Our half of Massachusetts is now in severe drought. (See here.)

The picture is one I took of a corn field in Concord, MA. It’s not supposed to look like that.

We’ve had droughts in the past and managed to cope with them. My son was born in a drought. That year we Ben was born and we managed to grow our first watermelon. A good year. Another year, we again had melons but lost them to desperate crows.

I don’t know if this is the worst drought to ever be recorded in Massachusetts. We’ve lived here for twenty-nine years and it is the worst drought we’ve experienced.

I’ve been watering the garden as best we can. If I miss a day, things wilt. Surface watering is the least efficient but it’s what we have at the moment.

The way we handled drought in previous years was to water where we needed to. We don’t water the lawn or any non-edible bushes. (Sometimes, I’ve watered the flowers. Don’t tell anybody.) The grass dries up. The ornamental bushes turn brown. If they die, they die. We’ll reseed or replant. But we get fruit and vegetables.

But in previous years we had working cats. This year we have out of control chipmunks, voles, and squirrels.

We first noticed a problem with disappearing sets.

At first, it was cutworms. We tried some cutworm prevention mechanisms (tubes) with new beans and that worked for a bit. Then, when the beans disappeared far beyond the cutworm stage, we got suspicious. Then, larger sets disappeared. We had a lovely melon that had flowered and it was eaten into the ground. Along with most of the carrots.

This year we went with Birdies Raised Garden Beds for potatoes and carrots.  That greatly lessened the damage. We’re still getting predation—from voles, in this case—but it lessened the impact. We have a single carrot left in the main garden.

We knew from last year that chipmunks were going to be a problem so we had a trap process in place. That significantly lessened the impact of the chipmunks, leaving plenty of predation room for the squirrels.

The squirrels have eaten our peaches, pears, Cornelian Cherries, and apples. They’ve started on the corn stalks, the blackberries, and the tomatoes. We’ve been attempting various methods of control but squirrels are meaner, stronger, and smarter than chipmunks. They are desperate and they are winning.

I can’t wait for them to figure out we have field corn in the main garden.

The drought even brought down our big hickory tree. That is, it precipitated a crack that felled one of the main trunks. This meant we had to have the entire tree taken down. It took the tree professionals three days. (BTW, if you’re in Massachusetts, I highly recommend Adam’s Tree Service.) We counted the rings and estimated the tree was ninety years old. We think it might have been nearly ninety feet tall.

While there was a time bomb of a crack in the trunk, we think it was the drought that brought it down. It had been dry for weeks. Then, we had brief spats of hard rain—not enough to really help but enough for a brief respite. Two days later, the hickory split in half. The one-two punch of dry, dry, dry, followed by rain, followed by dry was too much for it.

We were lucky. It didn’t hit the house, automobiles, or garden. It did hurt two of the new quinces so that’s a bummer. One quince is completely destroyed. Another was lifted and moved but I may be able to save it. The espalier frame was destroyed for those two. The remaining two quinces, and their espalier frames, were untouched.

It’s also going to have an impact on the squirrels. The hickory was their main home and their main food source. Will its loss drive them away? Drive them into the garden? Drive them into the garden and then away when there’s nothing left? I don’t know.

This throws a whole new light on our effort to be as self-sufficient as possible. I had been figuring between reasonable summers and the hot May/Cold Wet June/Hot July-August problem. I had not factored in a hundred year drought. Which, because of climate change, is really going to be every third year.

Hear that people? Those 1000 year, 100 year, 5 year weather events? They’re going to become normal. Not every year but you won’t have to wait five years for the next one.

I’ve been watching the weather down south. Good luck down there.

So: I had high hopes for this year. Now, I’m just hoping to get out of the growing season with potatoes and corn.

 

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4 thoughts on “State of the Farm, August, 2022: The Drought”

  1. I used to lose spring flowers to local squirrels: they’d nip the head off the tulip *just* as it was about to bloom. A friend suggested making sure the little blighters had water to drink. Bingo. No more beheaded tulips. They were thirsty!

    I kept going with the idea. After losing 98 of 100 (expensive!) species tulip bulbs one winter, I started feeding them a bit too. A $10 bag of peanuts doled out 3-4 per day keeps them from digging up most bulbs.

    It seems like it would be counterproductive to feed the vermin, but it seems to help? I figure they’re just trying to get by too. If I provide easy pickings, they won’t feel the need put in the harder work to get at the things I want to keep. That said, I’m not trying to produce truly delicious things like you are.

    1. Jennifer Stevenson

      Wow, I’ll try giving mine water, too. Little buggers do chew up my flowers. I used to sprinkle buds with hot pepper. This is a nicer approach 😉

  2. Does this mean you need to acquire working cats again? It is astonishing how many vermin a cat will catch in a day, especially if they learn to eat the choice bits before discarding the rest (which we can hope scavengers pick up.)

    I worry about them bothering our already under siege birds. But yours don’t need birds–they have plenty of furred things to stalk.

    Here, the problem is squirrels moving in, and raccoons with big litters of nuggets. The raccoons stole a suet feeder the first night it was out. I just don’t bother–I am in a young forest, and they want every calorie for themselves. I have to use seeds soaked in cayenne to put anything out for birds.

  3. We would like to get working cats again. There are a number of issues with that. All of our cats, prior to the current one, were outdoor/indoor cats. This meant they were outside a good deal in the summer killing their weight in rodents regularly. One tiny cat, Nadine, couldn’t have weighed much more than seven pounds. She wrestled in an adolescent bunny she’d killed that was as big as she was. All of our cats up to a few years ago died of natural causes.
    But three cats ago, one after another, two cats disappeared. They might have been stolen– Ripley looked like a Russian Blue. But they also could have been killed by the increasing coyote population. With the new cat, Terri, we’ve been unwilling to risk it.
    We have thought about a barn cat. But a barn cat lives outside all the time, not just when we want it to. I’m not too worried about birds in the summer– as you point out, we have lots of rodents. But we do feed the birds in the winter and a barn cat might find them irresistible.

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