It is June 14, 2013 and I am already feeling like I have had my share of storms this season. Last week we had a tropical storm ravage us and then 1 week later a front rolled through that brought 5 minutes of the worse wind I have ever been outdoors in (I explain this stupidity below.)
As a farmer, I feel like we are always having unpredictable and unusual weather. Folks seem to think this is new trend—but my theory is that farmers have always paid attention to the weather —regular non-farming folks not so much. My point is that farmers keep their ear to ground for weather so we can take the necessary steps as soon as possible to save as much as possible. Following these steps takes time that we just don’t have—but we soon see the errors of our ways when we don’t do them.
Perhaps the two most important steps to prepare the gardens when serious wind and torrential rain are on the way:
1. Cut a blooming annual garden hard before it hits. This removes the height of the plant that can quickly turn into a whip in the wind and can uproot the entire plant with its whipping action. Removing these stems can in fact save the plant that would regrow new shoots quickly after the storm if it survived. We generally harvest everything even remotely ready in an effort to save those blossoms and lighten the load on the plant. The blooms will not survive the storm—why not try to save the plant?
2. Install plant support long before you need it. We use what we call Flower Support Netting. It is plastic 6” x 6” white netting that is easily installed over immature plants using garden stakes that the plants grow up through. The ultimate height of the netting is at half of the mature height; 48” tall plants netting would be at 24” from ground level. This support gives your plants what they need to stay up during wind and rain. We have saved 4 foot sunflowers through almost hurricane force winds for a day with support netting. Other methods of support are grow-thru plant supports available at garden centers or using sticks and twine- not for heavy bloomers.
The stupidity part:
You may have wondered what I was doing outdoors when these 5 minutes of craziness hit our farm on Thursday June 13. We had actual completed storm preparations-I cut all day, taken in 40 trays of soil blocked plants, brought in buckets, etc. Suzanne and I had headed into my house to sit down and review some photos to send to our editor for the book. But then the dog looked like she needed to powder her nose one last time before the bottom dropped out and I remembered I hadn’t moved our harvest truck “Ebb” away from the tree line. So I headed outside.
The clouds had begun to roll in, getting grey, little to no wind at this point. I stood with Babs for a minute while she found just the right spot and then I started walking to the back of the property where Ebb was parked, and then I realized I was also barefooted— another error in judgment. The sky started to gray up more and then suddenly, halfway to the truck the row of 100 foot tall gumball trees I was under started dancing around like toothpicks. I broke into a run for the truck (running through gumballs barefoot) and Babs oblivious to the storm, thinks because I am running that there must be a deer in the garden! She takes off to garden #5, the very back garden—almost out of my screaming range with the roaring wind. I scream for her to come and get in the truck, finally she hears me and comes. We jump into the truck that still has our harvest trailer attached but not loaded and fire it up. I put my foot into it and drove faster than I have ever driven around our farm—I didn’t look, but it felt like the trailer was not even touching the ground behind us.
When I reached garden #2—the zinnia patch—I stopped, it was blowing flat, it was all being pushed to the ground, and I was stunned. My farmer brain said; park the truck here to help block the wind—what a joke of a thought that was. I watched for about 10 seconds, and couldn’t believe what the wind was doing. I stepped on it again to make it the rest of the way around the field, getting closer to the house, but away from trees. I had after all, risked all to save this truck… When I rounded the last corner is when the tree snapped along the road to my right and took down the power lines.
I parked; Babs and I ran for the house like we were chasing a deer! The 65 mph wind left as fast as it arrived as I reached the house. The power of wind is awesome, unstoppable and not so good to experience outdoors.
Lesson learned: don’t go outside when threaten weathers on the horizon—but if you do, wear shoes.
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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