Dude, Where’s My Rain?

September 30, 2010


Matt in the garden wondering 'dude, where's my rain?'

I just finished my third summer in Virginia, and I can safely say that this was by far the hottest of the three. Even more of an issue for our garden, it was also extremely dry.

How dry? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration*, from June 1 to September 23, Charlottesville (10 miles from the farm) received 6.17 inches of rainfall…total. On average, it receives about 17 inches during roughly the same time period. Contrast this with the several feet of snow we received from December to February.

The dry summer has yielded brown, crunchy grass, and young trees showing signs of stress (just like grad students).

According to Caleb (who checks his sources rigorously), the rule of thumb is that plants require about an inch of rain a week. Some more, some less. Obviously rain hasn’t been sufficient to meet our garden’s water needs.

Fortunately, part of the irrigation system that services the landscaping around the house also extends into parts of the garden. However, not all of our crops were covered by this system; they either needed to be watered manually or suffered (and by extension, so did we!). Case in point: our onions. We planted all of our onion bulbs in a bed opposite the yard from our garden. Out of sight, out of mind. We neglected the onions, they dried up, and we were really only able to salvage some small bulbs.

In reflecting on our little drought, I have developed a greater appreciation for rain as a source of sustenance. I’ve begun to grow irritated with cloudless days (that’s a first). More broadly, I think of how we still farm in places not suitable for farming without substantial artificial irrigation (see the Dust Bowl).

That’s why I was delighted this past weekend when the sky finally decided to precipitate. In the last 5 days, we’ve accumulated 2.5 inches in Charlottesville with more on the way. Good for the water table, too little too late for our melons, squash, and corn.

*thanks to Ben Hampton of College Park, Maryland for locating the climate data. He’s helpful that way. Ben also ‘regularly’ supplies CNN with weather information.

ps—here’s a fun photo of Caleb and Lucy getting ready to go out into the rain


So many times we have been frustrated “down on the farm” by substantial rains coming after long hot dry spells that aren’t in time to benefeit plant life. Even so, there is nothing more reassuring than watching a good thunderstorm from inside the garage or going to bed at night hearing rain hitting the roof knowing that, yes, it really can still rain!

Warren Sancken — September 30, 2010

In the immortal (ha!) words of Luke Bryan, “It clouds up in the city, the weather man complains/But where I come from, rain is a good thing”

Kristin Thomas Sancken — October 2, 2010