We're several months into a serious drought here and there's no end in sight. According to Agriculture Canada we are experiencing a D2 condition or "severe drought" at this point. We had low snowfall over the winter to charge the groundwater and since the end of March we've only had about 4 inches of rain, where we would normally expect closer to 12. We're feeling lucky that we are surviving so far this year, given how bad it has been for some farmers. Nonetheless, we are feeling the heat and so are the crops. The grass is a sea of brown, with just a few deep rooted perennials (like the chicory above) still making a go of it.
We've had a few things fail to establish at all early on - early carrots, beets, spinach, scallions and turnips. These are normally planted early enough in the spring that they will reliably germinate and get going with rainfall and soil moisture. Simply seeding and forgetting about these crops for a couple of weeks usually works out during the busy rush of spring as the season gets going. This year, I ended up replanting and coaxing along quite a few things, and still ended up with a few total losses. Fortunately the early transplants fared better, as they reliably get a bit of water to help them get established.
By now, I would have expected to have carrots going out every week, but they have hit a size plateau and seem to be waiting for more moisture. Lettuce, broccoli and baby greens have been missing from the boxes since the first few weeks because although I have been able to get them growing, without more water they are small and bitter. Yesterday I finally gave up on the last planting of broccoli and plowed it under to plant some drought tolerant cover crops and make some space for a few more fall crops. Out of my three broccoli plantings, I was only able to harvest the first.
We are fortunate to have some irrigation equipment (although not nearly enough to irrigate everything easily) and I have been putting in a lot of hours moving hoses and drip lines around to make the most of it. In the past couple of weeks, however, I have cut back to the bare minimum to keep things alive because I am starting to get worried about running out of water. We have one very good well with good flow but if we run out it will be real trouble. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
Here's a test hole I dug in a bed that hasn't received any irrigation. It is dusty dry a full 12 inches down. The little bits of rain we do get are barely wetting the surface here. It's quite strange to dig after a rain and find dry soil underneath a thin layer of moist soil on the surface. By my estimates and based on the soil type here, we need 2.5-3 inches of rain just to recharge the moisture in the topsoil, to say nothing of the groundwater.
Speaking of dust, even simple tasks like raking a bed flat kick up big clouds of dust. To a farmer, that's precious topsoil blowing away forever, so I have been trying to avoid excessive disturbance, but it can be tricky when a planting fails and needs to be replaced.
Here's a side by side comparison of the early and late summer squash. On the left is the first planting, which managed to get to decent size before the ground dried out completely. On the right (wilting) is the third planting, which I would be hoping to have take over production in two or three weeks from now as disease pressure increases on the first planting. It has been in the ground for almost a month and is barely hanging on. Needless to say, this squash won't be picking up the slack any time soon.
The sweet corn is doing better than the dry grass next to it, although it is quite a bit shorter than usual. The dry conditions stress the corn, but at least the heat we've had has been good for ear formation. In the foreground you can just see my high tech bird prevention technique for this year - paper bags over nearly-ripe ears, held on with rubber bands.
Ultimately, worrying about and being affected by the weather just comes with the territory as a farmer. Right now we're feeling fortunate to have been able to make it this far in the season under such difficult conditions. Still, we're definitely worried about getting some rain in the back half of the summer so that our fall crops have a chance to put on some growth before the weather starts to cool. Come on, rain!