Farmer John Writes: When the Pavement Dries Fast

 In Farm News

Week 1, July 9th – 13th

Welcome to our 2019 weather adventure–the wettest spring since Illinois started keeping records; hence our late start of your deliveries. In fact, it has been the wettest 12 consecutive months since Illinois started keeping records.

Remarkably, our crops  (your crops) overall look quite good; however, I must share with you more about the weather. The light has been different from usual this season, greenish-yellow sometimes. A scientifically inclined person might call it refraction from the humidity in the air. Maybe that’s it. Greenish-yellow light–I only see it every few years. And somehow, I’ve learned to see the moisture in the light. The light doesn’t have to be greenish-yellow; I will still see its sogginess.

The light recently

I don’t feel the dampness like humid air that might form beads of sweat. It’s more subtle than that. I feel it dancing on my skin. It’s what rain would feel like if it wasn’t wet. I often ask my wife Haidy if she can feel it, if she can feel the mystical moisture on her skin.

“Sometimes,” she says.

And, the breezes from the south–I can smell the moisture in them, smell the rains long before the first drops. 

“Can you smell the moisture in the air, Haidy?”

“I’m starting to be able to.”

“It’s coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, at least from down-state Illinois. It’s tropical. It’s pulling moisture up from all that land down there and bringing it towards us.”

There are signs to go by. Thunderheads in the west are a good sign.

When the cows are lying down, it’s likely to rain. When the cat eats grass, it’s likely to rain. These are usually reliable indicators. But this year, when the cows and cats are doing anything at all–simply existing–it’s likely to rain.

Will Darleney the Doughnut Elder eat grass?

My mother would sometimes say, when we were in the car after a rain, “the pavement is drying fast. That means it’s going to rain again soon.”

To elaborate on the strangeness of this year’s weather, rain sometimes won’t make a field as wet as long as it used to. We get fierce downpours; they slam the soil. I hear them pounding on the roof and I calculate how long before we can get into the fields again: at least 3 days, I sometimes think, if we get some wind and some sun and some luck, 3 days. We’ll work on equipment. We might be able to weed. Maybe trellis tomatoes. We’ll catch up on other things. It will be at least 3 days, maybe 4, maybe 5, before we can work the fields again.

The next day, the first day after the torrential rain, I have the crew do workarounds, count rubber bands for harvest, count bags for packing, weed the farmyard. The fields are mush.

Here is the thing to know, my shareholder friend–a most strange thing about the weather this year. The sky takes that water back, pulls it right out of the mud in the fields, pulls it back fast to pour it down on us again.

I have farmed for 60 years and I have never seen fields dry as fast as they have dried the past few weeks. Earlier in the season, the sky didn’t do that. It let the water sit, accumulate, linger. See proof in Farm News: Monet Did It, Too, where the mud sucked our big tractor right down to its frame. 

For the last few weeks, however, it’s been different. Only because I have some intuition about these things am I able to adjust, to shift directions, to get your crops in the ground. I start the day after the big rain, which is almost every day, and I am resigned to more delays in getting our crops in. By early afternoon, something tells me–yes, something tells me…I don’t know quite what it is–a whisper, a nudge, a tap,–something tells me that maybe the fields are dry enough again to plant. 

No way, I tell myself. No way, I tell anyone around me. That is nonsense. The fields are mud. We had huge rains last night, thunder, lightning, wind, water flowing down the road, down the driveway, water puddling, pooling.

Puddling, pooling

A farmer is usually resolute, fixed in many ways, solid, steadfast, not given to fancy, to silly thinking such as the fields can be worked shortly after a deluge of rain. But something comes to me and tells me that the fields are drying at a preposterously fast pace, an impossibly fast pace, for which I have no precedent in memory. They are drying. Plant now.

“Hey, you guys. Quick! Let’s go to the fields. Let’s transplant and seed as fast as possible. It’s going to rain!”

And that is how we planted field after field in the past few weeks.

Transplanting Brussels sprouts

I’ll now share something more unbelievable from the standpoint of your lifelong farmer. It’s more strange than that the soil dries impossibly fast, disarmingly, bewilderingly fast. It’s that the pounding rains do not pack the tilled soil. The tilled soil does not crust from the immense pressure of the trillions of raindrops crashing into it. In past years, we always had to till the soil after such rains, make it flocculant again. This year, no. It’s as though the rain isn’t real, is a phantom. It doesn’t wet the soil like usual, doesn’t pack the soil like usual, doesn’t stay in the soil like usual–at least for now, at least for these past few weeks, during the long days, the Summer Solstice days. The rain isn’t typical. Or is it the sky? Or the air? Or all of them?

It is the utmost of farming miracles that we have such nice crops in our fields. These are also your fields.

July Field Day is Postponed
Due to the rains and the subsequent drawdown in our capacities to properly host a Field Day on the third Saturday in July, we are postponing our first field day of the season to a Saturday in August, to be announced soon.

No U-Pick this Season
The field designated for our U-Pick was total mud from April through June; it reposes in a vein of wetness that runs west to where our big tractor sank. Sorry, no U-Pick beans, peas or flowers this year.

Same kind of muddy ground as where the U-Pick beans, peas, and flowers were supposed to go

A Couple of other Details
(Sometimes it seems there is nothing but weather this season, but the fact is, there is more than weather. There’s just not enough room or time left to go into these other things very far.)

Your Box is Customized!
If I wasn’t so pre-occupied with the weather, this issue of Farm News might have focused on the exciting customization of your boxes. We hope you love getting what you love. Your box is the one with your name on it!

This week, you get to choose your favorites from this list:

purple scallion bunches
head lettuce
beets with greens
pea shoots
garlic scapes
curly parsley & flat leaf parsley
rainbow chard

Please make sure to add both email hidden; JavaScript is required and email hidden; JavaScript is required to your email address book to make sure that you receive all pertinent emails.

If you have been a shareholder with our farm before this season, you know that we offered a CSA recipe service called Local Thyme. Now that we have joined Harvie, and Harvie emails weekly recipes and cooking tips to shareholders, Local Thyme is no longer a part of your farm share subscription.

However, we love Local Thyme, and we want you to know that for $8.99 (reduced from $30) you can get a 1-year subscription to Local Thyme here and have access to a trove of fabulous recipes and cooking tips.

Please Fold Your Boxes Properly and Return Them
The farm re-uses the vegetable boxes. Flaps are easily torn when the boxes are dismantled improperly, and then the box bottom might later burst open with fresh, organic local produce heading towards the floor. Please carefully flatten your box and return it to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place your flattened, empty box it in the location where your box is delivered.

Thank You
Thank you to all our 2019 shareholders for being with us this season. Wherever you live, whatever you do, you are now a part of a farm. You are part of a place where wind, rain, soil, machinery, seed and people converge to grow your food.

Let us Know
Let the farm office know anything you’d like to share about this week’s box at email hidden; JavaScript is required. Please note the week and day of delivery, your site, when you picked up your box, and any comments about your box.

Here We Go
We hope you enjoy your first box of the season.

Written during a thunderous, torrential downpour; outside my window, sheets of water are billowing their way down to the earth,
Farmer John


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  • Ingrid Ross

    Farmer John, I have noticed the strangeness of the rain too! I couldn’t figure out why after all this rain the plants in my yard still dry up and need hand watering. It truly is like a phantom rain. I appreciate your years of observations and intuitions that enable you and your amazing crew to still coax beautiful foods from the earth even in strange times so that I can nourish my family. We thank you.

    • Farmer John

      Ingrid, This past Saturday, rain fell out of a seemingly blue sky. The only foreshadowing I had was our cat Whiskey the Baby Doughnut eating grass the prior day. I almost said to Whiskey, “you shouldn’t eat grass unless it’s going to rain, and it’s not going to rain.” Wrong.

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