Sunday, June 22, 2014


Late Friday afternoon, Dave finished hooking up the drip irrigation system for our vegetable garden. About 5 pm, the weather siren went off. Dave took Oolong, the cat, and Newton the dog, to the basement.The lambs retired to the barn and the sheep moved into the shadow of the woods. By the time I returned home and Dave emerged from the basement half an hour later, we had received three inches of rain and had drifts of 1 inch diameter hail around the house and at the edges of fields.

photo by Dave Ellison
The animals were all fine. The oats in the field which had been standing about 6 inches tall, now lay in the mud, stems broken and bent. Our vegetable garden had been razed. A few leafless tomato stems rose above the mud. Under the debris of ripped and tattered  basswod and box elder leaves, we found half inch tall stubs of melon stems. Huge rhubarb leaves were completely gone and their red stalks were shredded and already browning. No trace remained of the corn seedling or the squash. The berries on the June berry bushes were now few and far between. The apple trees still had leaves, but we found no fruit.

The perennial flower garden fared better, but the peonies, poppies and iris were done for the summer, their flowers shredded and leaves either flattened in the case of the poppies or badly damaged. The later season flowers still had some leaves and will hopefully repair themselves as the summer progresses.

It was our woods that showed the greatest power of all that water. The rain had coursed down the slopes of our fields, then slowed and gathered at the top of the woods where it began creating channels through the underbrush. In the west woods, the rushing water followed the easiest path, deepening the ditch beside the driveway until it met a tree branch. As tattered leaves and black loam washed against the tree branch, a dam formed and the water found two ways around the dam, steaming either down the middle of the driveway or into the woods on its way toward the lowest spot on the farm, our south east pasture. It flowed across the barn yard and filled all the low spots in between. The south east pasture which had had swampy areas because of our wet spring was now completely underwater.

The east woods are lower than the driveway, so no ditch had been needed. By Friday evening, the water from the fields was carving a river bottom through the east woods. When the torrent hit an obstruction, a big rock or tree, it pooled until it reached a low spot and then spilled over, creating a new riverbed, over a foot deep in places. The lowest spot in that woods is just north of the house. Water has pooled there in the past. On wet springs, we throw mosquito dunks (Bacillus thurengensis) into the pond to help control our mosquito population  This year I'd already treated 1000 square feet. Friday's storm doubled the area of pooled water in the woods. The underbrush was struggling to survive in the middle of a pond.

 Saturday afternoon we made a trip to the nursery to rebuild our garden. The plants we bought were further along than the seedlings we had grown in our green house. We also got some North Dakota heritage tomato plants from a friend - ten different kinds. They were all varieties that we'd never tried before, so maybe the storm did us a favor in the garden.

We'll wait to see what happens with the oats. If the damage is bad enough we'll have to replant or buy hay for next winter. Our friend Glen remembered that in the old days, farmers sometimes let the cattle in to graze the oats before they sent up a seed head. The grazed oats produced underground shoots that made for a denser stand when they were finally harvested.  Dave thinks that the oats are standing straighter today than they were yesterday. Maybe, just maybe, the storm will have improved our hay harvest too

Our driveway will have to be regraded and covered with class five gravel; but that was a project we'd been putting off all spring. Foot deep gullies have forced that decision on us. Perhaps another positive from the storm.

The long term consequences of Friday's storm are not the changes in our garden produce, our  hay crop, or our driveway, but the recarving of the land, the movement of topsoil from the top to the bottom of fields, the new contours in the woods. Twenty years ago, the last time we planted field corn, a disastrous rain had also moved topsoil from the high points to the low points of our fields. Mud drifts several feet high along the fence line taught us that our fields were too steep for corn. The consequences of erosion were too great.  This spring, Dave had broadcast the oats, leaving no rows of plants divided by rows of dirt for the run off to follow. Today, we could see that there was soil in the runoff, but not the hundreds of bushels of soil we lost last time. The washing on this season's fields was much less severe.

The new rivulets and ponds will provide hours of exploration for our three grandsons who already find the woods a magical place that changes every time they visit it, just as it did for our girls thirty years ago when they put on their rubber boots and explored the woods after a good rain. 

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