Krupp: Wet Weather Gardens

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Commentator Ron Krupp admits that all the rain this year has made
gardening quite a challenge – but he refuses to give up.
For 23 years, I’ve been gardening at the Tommy Thompson Community
Garden in the Intervale in Burlington close to the Winooski River. This
community garden site – begun in 1978 – covers three acres of vegetables
along with flowers, herbs and fruit. It is by far the largest community
garden site in Vermont. Today, there are about 165 plots on this rich
flood-plain alluvial soil.
For the past seven years, I’ve been
noticing changes in the climate – from too much rain and heat with
tomato and potato blight to an extended growing season. As everyone
knows by now, excessive rain has been the hallmark of this spring and
early summer. The backwaters of the Winooski River flooded the community
garden on three separate occasions leaving me, for one, not singing in
the rain.
Here’s a typical day in early June. After putting on
my rubber boots, I waded through puddles to reach my two garden plots.
Each one is 30 by 30 feet. I have a no-till plot that I dig by hand and
another one that’s rototilled in the spring and fall. Some two-inch high
peas were yellowing from being submerged in water. And most of the
peas hadn’t germinated. The zucchini and cucumber plants that I had
started in pots in my home and placed on raised beds under row covers
were yellowed and shriveled because the soil was too saturated. Spinach,
chard and kale seeds had sprouted and rotted from the high water table.
Tomato plants had yellowed. The leaves of the cabbages had taken on a
purple hue caused by the inability of the plant to take up nutrients in
its feeder roots. Even the earth worms were having a hard time – many of
them had succumbed in pools of water. The pounding rain stressed not
only the vegetable plants but also us gardeners.
I grow a lot of
food and put some of it by for the winter. I store root crops, can and
freeze vegetables, dry herbs and harvest greens in my cold frame well
into November. I depend on gardening for a good share of my food. But
many vegetable growers and dairy farmers are having a much harder time
than I am. Farmers can’t make hay when the grass is wet and the soil is
saturated. And the more it rains, the more nutrients are lost in the
first cutting of hay. Farmers can’t plant corn when the fields are wet
especially if the soil is mostly clay. Corn planted on the lighter sand
and silt soils is doing better.
And I’ve noticed that some home
gardeners with raised beds and light soils are having bumper crops. So I
guess I’ve decided that I won’t become a rice farmer. I’m going to moan
some, practice acceptance and do as Guy Kelsey used to do. He was a
farmer and gardener from Putney who once worked for George Aiken. Guy
didn’t plant his potatoes and root crops like carrots and beets until
the soil warmed up – which was from the middle to the end of June.
There’s still time to plant these crops and extend the growing season
well into November. Keep on planting.

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