Tag Archives: drought

Much Needed Moisture

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Here on the Front Range of Colorado, we’re in our second day of a snowstorm that’s bringing much needed moisture—the farmers’ mantra–to our soil and water supply. Even the Huffington Post ran an AP story on our snowstorm, reporting the rise in our snowpack to 77% of normal. That might not sound like good news, but it’s better than it was a week ago. And when I checked the National Resource Conservation Service’s snowpack report this morning, I found even better news: statewide snowpack is 203% of last year (154% for our water basin) when we suffered drought and wildfires. The snow may be below normal but any improvement over last year is welcome.

April is a busy time of year for getting vegetables seeded and transplanted, work now delayed by the snow. Two Saturdays ago, we transplanted 7000 onion and leek starts into new beds. With the fields still moist from the smaller snows that followed, we haven’t quite finished that planting. But with a snow day, we can catch up on a few chores that we might not have gotten to otherwise. This morning, John’s repairing our solar lawn mower and I knit a long swatch in assorted yarns for an upcoming public art event (more on that in May). Best of all, this April storm has afforded us time to try our friend Deirdre’s delicious sponge bread, something we’ve been wanting to do for months. Deirdre was right: it’s easy and delicious. I’m glad to have a snow day to find that out.

The snow may not be convenient right now, especially for our loved ones who have to get to work, but we’ll be happy for the snow this summer when there’s water for the fields, and the mountains, we hope, won’t run the risk of wildfire like last summer. A lot will depend on summer heat and wise water use. But for now, the clouds have issued us a reprieve. So here’s a few pics of what “much needed moisture” looks like at Stonebridge.

Snow drifting between our back mudroom and the bunkhouse. Our farmmate Joe tried to sweep a path and broke the broom!

Snow drifting between our back mudroom and the bunkhouse. Our farmmate Joe tried to sweep a path and broke the broom!

The stone bridge in snow

The stone bridge in snow

Typical for a spring snow, the ditch isn't frozen.

Typical for a spring snow, the ditch isn’t frozen

John outside the shop

John outside the shop in the tractor barn where he’s fixing the mower

The curl of snow around the roof of the Sunflower Room porch

The curl of snow around the roof of the Sunflower Room porch

And there's more on the way

And there’s more on the way

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Summer Heat

Of childhood vacations on my grandparents’ North Dakota farms, hot, dry winds blow through my memories of our summer visits. Days are long in that northern state; to escape the worst of the prairie heat, we’d run errands in town in the cooler mornings and spend afternoons in the farmhouse reading or playing games and drinking tall glass of iced tea. Most nights, we lay as still as possible in our stifling beds as the sound of the fan whirring in the living room held hope of catching any small breeze through the open window until the northern sun finally set hours past our bedtime.

Summer in Colorado is hot, too, although the worst heat doesn’t usually break until July and August, and hot days are broken by monsoon rains in the afternoons. But this year, May and June have been the hottest on record, with consecutive days breaking unheard of temperatures of 100 degrees, turning June into July with few clouds to shield us from the sun’s battering heat and bringing worries of drought to the state.

Every morning we check our irrigation ditch for water. We’ve received no official notice of an impending shut-down on our senior rights ditch, but rumors have us wondering how long we’ll be able to water the fields. The first thing John does in the morning and the last thing at night is set the pump, watering as much of the day as he can without wasting water to evaporation in the afternoon heat.

With little rain this spring, new grasses and plants in the foothills and mountains have not grown quickly enough to cover last year’s dry thatch, creating quick tinder for lightning strikes that spread through pine-beetle killed timber. Started by such a strike on mountain property owned by friends, the High Park fire has been burning for two weeks north of Ft Collins, destroying 8200 acres of beautiful forest land so far, with less than half of the fire contained. We can see the plume from our farm and smell the smoke, a daily reminder to use precaution in all we do.

Then this morning we woke up to thicker smoke hanging in the air and we knew the fire we’d heard about yesterday in Estes Park had worsened. This fire started in a housing subdivision near the southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, close enough to threaten western parts of the town. 4300 people, including patrons at our favorite Estes restaurant, The Rock Inn, were evacuated last night; horses from nearby stables were relocated to the fairgrounds. Throughout the morning, the smoke seemed to shield us from the intense heat of the sun as the temperature neared 100. Thankfully, the fire was out by late afternoon, leaving 20 houses burned to the ground.

Now, as the sun begins to set, we can hear thunder and a few small raindrops have fallen. John and I went outside to soak in the cooler air as the wind picked up around us. Without a real rain to soak the earth, the storm may be a mixed blessing. The wind may whip the fire north of us; lightning may ignite a new blaze in the tindered land. Still, the cooldown means we’ll sleep better tonight and that will be welcome. With a week left in June of temperatures forecast in the high 90s, we have another long, hot week before us to meet with caution and care.

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Rain, Finally, Rain

With no snow in March and little moisture in April, we’ve been thinking about drought here on the Front Range. Snow pack looked good last fall but dropped to 50% levels with the dry spring. Agricultural experts are warning that this is the first of a three-year drought cycle and advise farmers to plan properly. We’re not sure what “properly” might mean for us, except to water as much as we can now, especially perennial plants and trees in the hope of getting them through the hot summer.

In 2002, the irrigation ditch at our farm went dry. If it hadn’t rained in mid-August, we might have lost our crops. We planted our vineyard that year and did lose many of the vines. We’re worried that this year could be that bad or worse—and if not this year, then the next. The grass near the barn looked parched already; we’ve been watering the fields as much as we usually do in July. We’re luckier than others who don’t have a ditch at all or who live further from the head gate and run out of water earlier in the season than we do, but once the water’s gone, it doesn’t matter where on the ditch you live. Last Friday hit a record high temperature and we wondered how we’d get through a summer that seemed to be starting months earlier than it should.

And then it rained. Sunday night was a real rain, not just a few drops but enough rain to wear a raincoat, and yesterday was cloudy with a little drizzle. Both nights were cool but not cold enough to freeze the grape buds or baby fruit on the trees. Perfect. The mountains got some snow as well, which may help ease irrigation worries later on.

This morning, the farm looked different: fresh, verdant, and relieved, like it might make it through the season after all. I transplanted mint under the outdoor water spigot at the house. That’s where my grandmother kept her mint on the North Dakota prairie, the only place it was guaranteed moisture; when she’d water the flowers along the side of the house, the spigot would leak onto the mint. My grandmother didn’t waste water. She even washed dishes in a tub in the sink so that she could throw the water on the flowers when she was done. She’d make tea from that mint, the coolest drink in the hot summer.

The smell of mint still reminds me of my grandmother and the childhood summers I spent on the farm. Planting mint under our own spigot seems like a hopeful tradition. Whatever this summer brings, we’ll do our best. We’re still worried about a warming climate that is changing our weather patterns and impacting the way we farm, but for now, we’re happy for the reprieve of a rainstorm and the return of spring.

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