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Krupp: Wet Weather Gardens

07/12/11 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Commentator Ron Krupp admits that all the rain this year has made gardening quite a challenge - but he refuses to give up.
(KRUPP) 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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