Zombieland Comes to Sunflower Farm

By Cam Mather


I hate summer!


I hate droughts!


After 8 weeks of brutal heat without a drop of rain my brain is feeling fried so I’ve written a rant.

I’ll qualify it by saying that this post was written by a sleep-deprived, exhausted, ticked off market gardener who spends every day watering. Watering. WATERING! Just watering to keep things alive, and not very alive at that.

I’m thinking we’ve been 40 days without a drop of rain. We might have had a couple of hours of drizzle 6 weeks ago, but it was useless. So maybe it’s 50 days. It is a drought of epic, biblical, end of the world as we know it proportions.

When we decided to run a CSA I knew full well what I was getting into, but like most farmers, I have this crazy bout of optimism every spring that makes me think that somehow we’ll dodge the drought bullet this summer. Just sunny days and rainy nights all summer! Yee ha!

I should know better. We are in a drought-prone area of Ontario. The clouds come across the Great Lakes and pick up moisture and then they tend to dump it in Southwestern Ontario. I have come to accept this. But while I have always managed to grow food through droughts, I have never experienced anything like this.

This drought saps my hope. Each Sunday night I sit and watch the weather forecast for the upcoming week and it’s always the same. Seven days of sun. Yes, I live in a solar-powered house … so what? I need rain too. And of course this year we’ve had lots of days that are really hot but have lots of cloud. This can be good if rain comes from those clouds, but that doesn’t happen. What is does is restrict how much watering I can do because I have to produce the electricity from my solar panels before I can pump water. And if there’s not enough sun, I can’t pump enough water.

Last year I blogged about our awesome new air conditioner. The problem this summer has been the relentless heat along with lots of cloud and thick, dirty air. And so I’ve had to use most of our power for pumping water. All day. Constantly. So we haven’t been able to use the air conditioner as much as we’d like. Plus with a new dog and chickens outside we prefer to sleep with the windows open so we can keep our ears peeled for “trouble at the henhouse.”

So every day I spend as long as I can watering. Michelle gets out in the garden early, waters as much as she can and then heads inside to make breakfast and then deal with office work. All day long I venture into the garden to move the drip irrigation and the lines that supply them. I walk, and water, and move solar panels on pumps, and water more.

And I am exhausted.

I lose my appetite in the heat, but I need the calories more than ever. I don’t sleep well at the time I need it the most. Each day I get a little more sleep-deprived and a little bit more zombie-like.

All the allure of market gardening is gone. Now it’s just a grind. The drought has made it just about unbearable. We are still managing to provide baskets full of beautiful vegetables to our CSA members but it is coming at a cost. Our mental and physical health.

I say mental health because seriously, I’m starting to lose it. A drought like this grinds down your spirit. You can water and irrigate all you want, but the garden needs rain. It needs help from Mother Nature. Your psyche starts feeling as parched as the soil.

There are lots of other things I’d like to be doing these days, but I can’t. Like succession planting. And weeding. And pruning tomatoes back. And hilling up potatoes. The weeds are really taking over and the problem is I just don’t have the time or energy to pull most of them. I can’t rototill between the rows as I often do, because it’s just so dry that it will send up huge clouds of dust that was once my rich, dark soil. So now many weeds are going to seed, which will just make the garden that much weedier next year. If I even grow vegetables next year.

It concerns me when I speak to other farmers who are trying to grow sustainably, mostly on a small scale. They too are discouraged and exhausted and hate the summer. This is a bad trend for society. As long as the industrial-sized farms are getting their inputs of fossil fuel and seed and petroleum-based “cides,” things are OK. And rain. But if that ever changes, and the people who grow on a smaller less energy-intensive scale have all given up, then Houston we have a problem. I can irrigate on my scale, but a farmer with 500 acres of corn is at nature’s mercy. And nature is having no mercy this summer.

I’d like to think any day now we’ll get a good drenching rain, or a couple of days of it, and all will be forgotten. But it won’t. We live on Canadian Shield with lots of rock outcrops where trees have tried to establish themselves in the minimal topsoil. And right now it looks like someone took a big blowtorch to these spots. Dead trees. Brown grass. Leaves are blowing off trees like the fall, and it’s July.

I saw one of those climate-denying Senators on the news the other day suggesting “It’s summer, get over it.” He was in a suit. In an air-conditioned studio. He just has no idea. And yes, I chose this life. I could be living in suburbia in air-conditioned comfort driving to work in my air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned office. But somehow growing food off the grid just had more appeal. Really, what WAS I thinking?

I remember sleeping in the basement as a kid because no one had air conditioning. It was a novelty. And the heat waves passed. And the rains came. And the plants were rejuvenated. Not this year. The heat started early and just keeps on going. And the rains don’t come. And the heat saps my energy. And the drought saps my spirit.

Sorry for the rant but two months of heat and drought have turned me into a zombie.

View from the front door

View from the front door

Sad Sunflowers

Sad Sunflowers

Dried Up Milkweed

Dried Up Milkweed

Brown Lawn

Brown Lawn

On the rock

On the rock

GOOD NEWS! The day after we posted this blog, we got rain! Thanks to everyone who sent hopes and prayers for rain… apparently your rain dances worked!

11 Responses to “Zombieland Comes to Sunflower Farm”

  • Hi Rick! Yes, we seem to be in a bit of a micro-climate here. Everyone around us will get rain and we won’t get a drop… There are drought-resistant strains of many seeds and we definitely aim for those when we are putting our seed order in. We do have a small dug pond beside the house but after the lack of rain last fall, the lack of snow this past winter and then the dry spring and summer it is non-existent right now! We have lakes around us but they are quite a distance away and probably not viable for pumping.

  • Hi Musia! Thanks for reading the blog and a special thank you for taking the time to comment! We appreciate your kind words so very much!

  • Musia:

    I LOVE your rant -why ??? Is it because I am cruel? NO
    It’s because you write it so well! I read this after you posted the more recent post – (sorry for that) – but the reason I love your blog is I love the way you write. Yes we too have had a drought in Ottawa area but not as long as yours

    Take care and keep up the fantastic writing. (so glad I found your blog)

  • Rick:

    Hey Cam, thanks for the rant. It’s important to hear about the realities of being a farmer. Especially a small scale farmer. I didn’t realize where you live, is prone to droughts.

    Probably a dumb question, but are there veggies, etc. (from organic seeds) that are more drought resistance? I can’t remember, but do you have a pond? If not, have you considered one or more for irrigation?

    I also can’t stand those climate deniers. There are two types, the religious who hide behind God, while they drive their SUVs, and the ones who are owned by corporations, via lobbyists, or who work for big corporations, and therefore are brainwashed.

    I think as time marches on, farmers will have to adapt to climate change, if it can even be done.

    Anyway, all the best, glad you got some rain.

  • Glee Bohanon:

    I sympathise, Cam, We have a drought going on here in SE Michigan, too. I let the lawn go as I always have, it’s just weeds mowed occassionally to keep them roughly the same height anyway. I have only had to mow it once this month. It’s just dead brown stuff out there. We had to haul water to our fruit trees that will bear no fruit this year. The pasture is giving out early, and the hay is shorter and tougher than usual. I doubt there will be a second cutting for our hay man. I will soon have to start supplementing the stock with what little hay we have. I usually don’t need to do that until November. I can’t afford to sell any of it, so that leaves me short on money for taxes . . . many of our turkeys and chickens will be ‘processed’ a little early, too. That’s my rant. It’s not even Augist yet when we usually have the hottest weather. I wonder what’s next? It’s not too early to get ready for a very severe winter.

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Wow Cam, that is awful. Rant away whenever you need; we’re all pulling for you. Hang in there. Best wishes to you and Michelle.

  • Jeff:

    Wow, Cam, that sucks. It sounds pretty much like every season down here in Arizona, though. We don’t usually get so much as a cloud, much less rain between the middle of April through mid-July. Once the monsoons hit, it’s hit or miss whether we get a few sprinkles. I feel bad for you with the humidity up there, though. Like you, we have to drag the hoses around every day, and get it done before 8am when the temperature climbs into the mid-90’s. I really do feel your pain, because the humidity is the killer there.

    Doing the rain dance for you, guys! Hang in there! Like your last post, look forward to snuggling under the blankets with a good book. Winter has its good side.

  • reading a rant sucks, friend. other than that, i’m with you

  • I’m really sorry about your lack of rain and wish I could send you some of ours. We are having just the opposite here in the Northwest. I still have sugar snap peas producing but the tomatoes are only flowering. Perhaps you should rethink for next year, get your customers on an email list, and produce under circumstances that aren’t so stressful. Especially since mother nature is so fickle. I hope that senator starves to death.

  • Kitty H:

    Oh my! I’ve had a different story. It didn’t rain the second half of June and first half, pretty much, of July. Since then, it’s storm after storm. We’re ready to build an ark. I check my tomatoes even in the rain. So far no late blight, but… I have sprayed potassium bicarbonate twice in hopes of keeping the blight away. We’ve only had one sunny day in the past two weeks. Last night we had another big storm. We have roof skylights and the lightening came through my eyelids and woke me up. Climate change sucks big time.

  • Jeff M:

    Instead of the zombie chant of ‘Brains! Brains! Brains’ yours is ‘Rain! Rain! Rain!’

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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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