Extreme Weather in the Mud Bowl

Farmers are supposed to complain about the weather, right? So here goes.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that most summers I’m ranting about the drought. Usually my sandy soil is blowin’ away in the wind and there is no rain in sight.

This spring has been the exact opposite, but it’s not normal rain. It’s epic. It’s unprecedented. It’s ‘build yourself an ark’ kind of rain.

We had a ton of snow thanks to the polar vortex, which seems to be caused by the jet stream losing grip. It used to blow in a fairly consistent way across North America, but now that the Arctic is warming at 3 times the rate of the equator, the jet stream is all whacked out and is taking these huge sine-wave-like dips, dragging that cold air south. Hence snow in Atlanta and 100-year-old citrus trees dying. This past winter we had day after day of storms. We brag about hibernating all winter, but that was a decision made easier by Mr. Vortex.

What climatologists suggest is that our changing climate will experience more extremes. Warmer air holds more moisture, and it will be deposited helter skelter. The jet stream dips lower than it used to, but it also tends to get stuck in one spot, which it never used to do. Hence Calgary got 2 months worth of rain in 2 days last summer with historic flooding. $6 billion worth. Last summer Toronto got a month’s worth of rain one day in August and that same day I watched the heavy rain create rivers in my driveway and flood my garage. That had never happened before in the 15 years that I have lived here, and I ended up borrowing Ken’s tractor to make a ditch to channel the water away from the garage.

So this spring the garden was much wetter than usual because of the huge snowmelt. My garden has this lovely sloping contour, which takes the water down towards the dug well. This is where the best soil is because years ago cows lived in the barn and enhanced the area around the barn foundation with their manure. But this spring this area will not dry out. Not only was it saturated from the winter but we keep getting torrential downpours. A couple of weeks ago I got the rototiller through the area once (without getting stuck in the quicksand) and then last week we had two days of unbelievable rain. Like a month’s worth each day.

the mudzone

On one of the rainy days we decided to head to Kingston to get plumbing parts for our rain barrels (like I’ll need them this year) and a few more plants from Burts Greenhouses. During one particularly heavy downpour we were in a suburban parking lot and more than half of it was underwater as the drains tried to recover from the dumping. It was little lake right on the pavement. Woo hoo, get your swimming trunks!

I keep seeing photos that my friends have posted on Facebook of their lawns and driveways and gardens underwater with a comment that they’ve never seen it like this before.  When I picked up some steel for the roof of our new chicken coop I had to drive over a little stream on the driveway to my friend Don’s house. The water was raging through there. Don said, “I’ve never it seen anything like it at this time of year before.”

This week we’ve had 3 more days of more brutal rains; an inch on Monday and ¾ of inch on Tuesday. I’m going to have to string ropes through the garden soon so we can pull ourselves out of the mud when our boots get swallowed up.

boots in mud

Oh yes, and then there is our basement. As you saw in a previous blog post (here) we had epic flooding in the basement this spring. It took longer than it ever has to dry out. And then a couple of weeks later it flooded again. Then last week, when we were pretty sure the basement could start to dry out, there was another couple of inches in the basement. There is just so much water trickling down through our sandy soil that it pushes up through our sump well into the basement. Note to self: Summer project… fill in that dam sump well with concrete!

To the people sweltering in the dustbowl of the U.S. Southwest you have my sympathy. I know I’m not getting any sympathy from you. California is experiencing the worst drought on record. There’s a great clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s new documentary series on Showcase called, “The Years of Living Dangerously,” where he says “Fire season used to last a couple of months … now it lasts all year.”

When I can watch the U.S. nightly news, “Extreme Weather” seems to be the lead or close to the lead story most nights that I watch it. Sure, forest fires, floods and tornadoes all make great news. But it really does seem that we’re experiencing the first real effects of climate change. Well, those of us that don’t live in New Orleans or the Jersey Shore or New York. Those folks have already experienced the catastrophic effects of climate change firsthand. Right now parts of India are in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of 45°C (115°F). They are hoping that the monsoon rains might arrive and provide some relief from the relentless heat. How can anyone function in that heat? And most of them don’t have air conditioning.

What is it about humans that we don’t get the gravity of the situation?

When people ask me to autograph my gardening book, I often write, “May your days be sunny and your nights be rainy.” After 4 days of rain I’d take any sun right about now.

I’m enlarging other areas of the garden to make up for the prime real estate that is so soggy that I’m not sure when or if I’ll be able to plant it. It may be plantable for our late brassicas, broccoli and cauliflower, that we’ll try to have ready for late in September. I’m thinking I should start digging trenches but because I am usually dealing with drought conditions, I’m hesitant to mess with the hydrology of the area. I guess I can always fill in the trenches next year. I’ll have to do it by hand because even if I had a tractor it would be buried to its axles in the quagmire in no time.

I’m not complaining mind you. Everything is slow with the lack of sun but on the plus side I do not have to water or irrigate this year. We will be starting u the CSA next week because John Wise’s organic strawberries will be ready. We have lettuces and spinach and radishes that are ready. They are all bursting with flavor … and water!

Extreme, erratic weather. The new norm. Never a dull moment!

Celery in the mud

Celery in the mud

lettuce puddles

7 Responses to “Extreme Weather in the Mud Bowl”

  • Susan:

    I have to agree with the sump pump deal. If/when you need it you will regret having to be out in the rain pumping with something you had to buy or borrow.

  • Guess what Cam spent part of his day yesterday doing? Yup… he dug some trenches!

  • Pat Nobbs & Lauder Smith:

    Thank you for sharing your spring planting experience with us.

    Lauder and I have said several times lately – “imagine if we were trying to grow part of a winter’s worth of veggies ourselves rather than just enough to have our own veggies for the summer months.”

    And you and Michelle and Chelsea are doing it for us. Thank you.

    PS Lauder wants to know if you want to borrow his hip waders OR the Chest waders.

  • Lulla Sierra Johns:

    You need to dig some trenches thru and around the edges of garden to siphon off water and give the soil a chance to drain.

  • Melanie Ann MacKenzie:

    We have been having the weird weather here as well. We are about an hour due west of Ottawa. Thanks to the aforementioned polar vortex, we lost 5 fruit trees this winter. Only a couple of our apple trees have managed to set any fruit. Thankfully, the raspberries seem to not mind the weather and I can see lots of blossom on them. Like you Cam, our soil here is quite sandy. We have several beds of asparagus and for almost an entire month, one of them was completely under water. Asparagus like to be well watered but they also like free drainage and despite our sandy soil, they were waterlogged. We did not harvest anything from that bed this year in an attempt to let the crown try to save themselves. Thankfully, they seem to have recovered but we were hoping to cut from that bed this year. We have been waiting 3 years to eat that asparagus! We had the same couple of days of insane rain here also. Today the sun is shining and a brisk breeze is blowing so we spent the day in the garden trying to clean up the mess that we have been unable to get to until now. And people say climate change is a myth!

  • Tricia:

    We put in a garden this year, it’s on a slight slope and the soil is clay. I insisted on leaving grass rows between each bed…my fiance was hesitant. It was alot of work because we had to ‘edge’ each bed (they aren’t raised) with landscape fabric shoved down between the grass and the bed, to keep the grass from spreading, and I’m not sure if that will even last too long:} It’s a challenge growing food in this extreme weather for sure, trying to keep moisture in the soil, prevent erosion and flooding…it’s like you have to know how to garden through drought and floods, you never know which you’re going to get.

  • I have wondered about filling in the sump well in my basement too, but then I figured it is there for a reason and something bad would happen if it were filled in. Then again, having the sump pump running constantly in an off-grid home is a bad thing too. Do any readers have experience with this?

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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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