Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Flooded and Fruitless

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

51° and windless here on the mountain since 4 AM. The heavy rain continues to beat on the roof and although I would like to go check the rain gauge to see how much rain has fallen since 6:30 PM, I can't make myself step out into the mess. Even Karl the Wonder Dog is usually begging to go out by the time he hears me walk back to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee but this morning he is buried deeply into the bed clothes, disinterested in the weather.

What a summer, what a week! Irene flooded our lowers gardens again and the fences were flattened and ripped apart. I waited three days for the soil to dry enough to stand on it and not sink in and Monday I began to disassemble the mess and figure out how many materials I need to make repairs again. As soon as the sun begins to rise I'll head to the nursery and get an idea of what happened last night. I don't think we received as much rain as last Sunday with Irene and certainly hope not as I did not pull the pump again. The water pump is about 26 feet above the Winooski River bed but is in a narrow part of the river that comes up quickly. The pump and pump house have not been swallowed up by the waters yet and I prefer to keep it that way.

Earlier this summer Gail signed us up for Vern Grubinger's Vegetable and Berry Growers listserv at UVM. It has turned out to be a tremendous resource but of late it has been a tad depressing with comments about what growers have lost. Growers are very generous too and many are offering surplus produce to their counterparts to help everyone at lower elevations get through this weather mess. What is amazing is the destruction people have experienced and the amount of food they had to destroy because of contamination by flooding. The amount of land that is missing is incredible too.

Monday I pulled all our tomatoes and although it was a lot of work for me, it was nothing like what a tomato grower has experienced. I had been growing half a dozen Johnny's tomato varieties as an experiment. I was going to erect a high tunnel greenhouse and the tomatoes I was trialing were greenhouse friendly. Just prior to the floods, the tomatoes were doing what they should and although I planted them a little late to begin with, the production was outstanding and the volume of fruit was significant.

Bending over to pick a tomato or two after the flood is easy but what growers repeated time and again was despite the good looking fruit, dump it all because of contamination. Warnings included wearing face masks and gloves when pulling crops because of the assortment of chemicals that adhere to plants after being submerged. Picking a nice ripe tomato and rubbing it "clean" on your shirt seems easy enough but the chemical and bacterial adherents are the problem. Pulling the plants created a cloud of dust and chemicals that clearly raises safety concerns.

A grower spoke of dumping $50,000 in vegetables and said that having second thoughts about it prevailed in his own mind until he sat by the river and watched what was floating by and over his fields. Gasoline, fuel oil, two town septic systems, millions of gallons of foul water, all forms of household, agricultural and commercial residues, dead animals, tons of manures and fertilizers. The brief summary was sufficient to forget about the nice looking tomatoes and just pitch them into the truck for transport out of the garden.

As I pulled plant after plant, I noticed that the tomato hornworms were still easting away but their numbers were quite small. As I pulled a variety known as Defiant I stopped for a minute thinking about the name and the strength of the plant. Each plant probably weighed 30 pounds, often more, including the plant and the ripened or ripening fruit. Despite being pushed over into a 45° angle by the flood waters, the plants were firmly stuck to the ground. But they were covered in layers of silt and miscellaneous "whatever" and were unsafe to use for consumption so they had to go.

As you clean up any gardens, personal or commercial that may have been flooded over, wear gloves and face protection and don't try to save, eat, sell or donate the food. It's just not right. This is not easy but it has to happen. Next year will be better.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the darkness is broken only by the blinking green light on the electric fence that clicks on, protecting our honeybees from hungry bears. Click---click---click.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm


The Sage Butterfly said...

That is so frustrating, I am sure. Not only has Irene left such destruction in her wake, but the work we all must do to repair the damage is astounding. I am so sorry to see your tomatoes lost. I hope the calm and peace comes very soon...

Salix said...

George, I have been thinking of you, wondering if you were affected by Irene.
The weather - good or bad - is often on our minds and we tend to complain about too little or too much! But this must be devastating for you and other growers.
As you say - next year will be much better.