30 July 2016

Armageddon in the garden

This summer I began writing a short series of posts about our local community garden and my plot in it.  This past week disaster struck.

South-central Wisconsin normally gets about 4" of rain in the entire month of July.  Last weekend, according to the admins, "...we received slightly over 4 inches of rain on one day, and then followed by another 3 inches the following day... One of the gardeners who went into the garden towards sunset of the first day reported that water was knee deep in places."  This community garden is located in an area that doesn't drain well, so most of the garden plots had standing water for 4-5 days.  The result was brutal for many of the vegetable crops.

The top photo shows someone's row of cabbages.  The leaves are dead and surrounded by not-yet-dry mud.   Here is someone's tomato patch:

The marsh hay covers the mud, but it's evident that all of the tomato plants are dying.  That surprised me a little, given how fleshy the fruits and the stems of tomatoes are, and how avidly they take up water in the summer.  But I think the standing water "drowns" the plant by cutting off oxygen to the root system and by facilitating the growth of fungi.

Someone else lost his/her tomatoes and the climbing legumes.

In my plot the tomatoes are dead, and these three rows of carrots are on death's doorstep.   The dill still stands, but is yellow.  The corn and squash look like survivors.

The least-affected plots in the community garden are (not surprisingly) the straw-bale gardens, like this one:

I can respond to this with some equanimity, since the garden was mostly designed for butterflies, and the tomatoes can be replaced with ones from our home garden (or the local farmers' market).

But as I surveyed the damage, I was forcefully reminded of an incident my mother related to me on several occasions.  She grew up in the 1930s on a Norwegian family farm in southern Minnesota, and remembers an incident where severe weather (I think a hailstorm) devastated one of the farm fields.  She remembers her mother nearly in tears saying to her "we really needed that crop."  Theirs was a life lived much closer to the edge than I will likely ever experience.  In an era before farm subsidies and crop insurance a single weather event (early or late freeze, wind lodging of the corn or grain, epidemic illness in the animals) went directly to the bottom line, especially in a cash-poor system where finished goods like clothing were sometimes obtained by barter.

What I lost amounted to several dozens of hours of labor.  Only two generations earlier a similar event would have been life-altering.  A sobering thought.


  1. Are you allowed to do true raised beds in those plots? Knowing that its an area that doesn't drain well that would have been my first thought, so I'm a little surprised at the lack of raised beds. I HAVE to do raised beds in my yard. In a normal summer if I dig a hole I'll hit water less than a foot down.

    1. I think there are some photos showing raised beds in my previous posts


    2. ah! I didn't remember them

  2. We have raised beds in our community garden as the caliche layer in the soil prevents good drainage. At my house, I had 3 dwarf citrus trees professionally planted by a nursery. Unfortunately, they did not drill down enough and the trees slowly drowned in standing water.

    I think of subsistence farmers today and how much their lives literally depend on the weather. Viewing the community garden beds in the miserably high temperatures of southern Arizona, I sometimes wonder, What if I had to live upon only that which I could grow? What would we eat? Meals would be different- no lettuce salad in summer. An awful lot of sweet potatoes and tepary beans on the menu. Tomatoes only when the grubs don't overrun the beds.

    I'm sorry this happened to your garden. It is disheartening.

  3. can you get the garden admins to dig a drainage ditch around the garden?



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