One of the things that I have found most fascinating with our farm share is the different ways that different weather conditions affect different crops. Some years there will be lots of rain in the spring, wiping out, say, the spinach, but leading to happier tomatoes down the line. Or a heat wave will, say, frizzle the snap peas but delight the strawberries.
Farmer Jim and Sherry do such a fantastic job of providing us with a wide array and balance of crops, so it always seems that there’s something thriving in conditions that other things aren’t happy with, and we don’t often consider the way that tumultuous weather can really be devastating to farmers. This week, though, we learned first-hand.
After a smothering, humid heatwave, Wednesday finally saw a front move through New Jersey to break the miserable, sweltering conditions for us. That would be good news, except for the way it broke — it was a giant, slow-moving front, and it crept along over us, giving us a constant string of strobe-light lightning and incessant thunder for almost 10 hours. And in the middle of the afternoon, we had a 20-minute stormburst with an intense brutality the likes of which I’ve never seen before. First there was crackling thunder and blue-green lightning flashing constantly, then sheets of rain whipping around in every direction, and then hail. Lots of hail. Giant hail. The pond below my office window looked like it was being barraged with golf balls, and when I looked out the front of the building, the parking lot looked like it had been covered with white gravel. The hailstones were the size of that huge, industrial gravel, fully an inch long. The skies pelted us with the stuff for about 15 minutes, and then the sun came out (but not for long — the thunder and lightning resumed shortly thereafter). It was the strangest storm I’ve ever seen.
It was also extremely destructive. Just that brief a spurt of violent storming wreaked havoc. On my way home from work that day I stopped for corn at the farm stand and discovered their barn had been struck by lightning (no one was hurt, and the barn is apparently fine) and the farmer was apparently on the phone with the crop insurance people. When I walked past the fields this morning, the plants were in tatters. On Thursday morning I received an email from our membership farm explaining that the summer lettuce and chard crops had been destroyed, and the tomatoes, watermelons, scallions, beets, and summer squash had all suffered severe damage. While I’m feeling very mopey that I won’t get as many wonderful tomatoes as I’d hoped for this summer, and that my produce habit is going to be more expensive than in years without hail-damaged crops, it’s also really humbling to think about people who rely on the land for their livelihood. It’s easy for me just to go to another farmer’s market, or suck it up and buy the shipped-from-who-knows-where produce in the grocery store. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if there wasn’t a fallback. Pookie remarked when we were assessing our own garden damage that it’s amazing to consider that hail doesn’t do anything good. It’s puzzling that Nature destroys things without reason, without some offsetting benefit. Puzzling and, literally, awesome.
Meanwhile, there’s been some clamor that we haven’t been posting enough pictures lately (so we’ve been lazy! Sue us!), so here’s a look at the damage our own modest crops sustained.
First, remember the pumpkin at the front door?
Here’s what a quarter-hour of hail did to it:
Our puny little habaneros, which were finally starting to look like they were bushing out just a bit, took a beating, too:
The peppers on the nardellos plants, some of the gherkins, and some of the tomatoes got pitted by the hailstones and cracked. And even more tomatoes simply gave up the ghost and were buffeted to the ground.
But you know what else is puzzling (in a “mysterious” sense) and awesome? That all was not lost. Here are some ripening Black Plums that were unaffected by the storm…
…and here are some San Marzanos soaking up the post-storm sunshine:
And look at what a week of harvesting has yielded of the Black Plums!
Meanwhile, while we were scoping out the destruction in the garden, we were also seeking signs of new growth from the wave of crops we planted this past weekend. That’s right — we spent a tortuously hot Sunday afternoon filling in the recently emptied beds with carrots, beets, and some impulse-bought beans.
These are Lina Sisco’s Bird’s Egg beans:
These are Hutterite Soup beans:
These are October beans:
And these are Tigers Eye:
So even while we shed some tears for our fallen, tattered plants, we were thrilled to see signs of life all over the bean beds.
And over in the beet bed, an eagle eye can see signs of life, first from the Touchstone Gold and then from the Detroit Dark Red:
And on the fringes of the beleaguered pepper bed? The first wave of carrots are growing like a literal fringe. Even after the hail, their fronds are cool, elegant, and lacy.
But the best lesson of the day for us was this: Sure, Nature can’t help but destroy things for no reason, but Nature also can’t help but make beautiful things, either.