Oh, how we want to be careless in our summer clothes, like the song says, but we are still knee-deep in the rain and the mud. What a pain. While the pears unfurl their first leaves in the upper field, we realized the lower field was severely flooded. Stagnant pools of rainwater sat right where we wanted to plant the hops. Constantly driving the tractor over the mud during clearing was causing deep ruts in the topsoil that would inhibit growth later on. The pressure was on to get the hops in the ground. With warmer temps, the rhizomes would not last much longer in plastic bags. So, we put on our galoshes and our thinking caps to improvise a solution to drain the hops field.
We knew an old drainage tunnel ran through in the woodlot next to the hops field. The tunnel eventually led to the ice pond about an acre south. We decided to dig a trench from the hops field to the drainage tunnel area to release the pooled water and give it somewhere to flow. In the midst of a not-warm spring rain, I dug a 50-foot with the Kubota tractor. Rich shoveled out areas that were too muddy for the tractor to cross. It took over five hours. At the end of the day, as the rain fell harder, we watched thousands of gallons of pooled rainwater gush down the trench and spread into the woodlot. It drained so quickly that ripples formed on the water surface. Even cold and exhausting, it was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done here.
Draining the field smoothed the way for the next steps. Rich, his cousin and a friend worked through the weekend to clear the rest of the field. Our friend, who happened to go to forestry school, brought over his chainsaw and felled the 21-foot pole-trees for the hops trellis system. Rich’s cousin pulled out the remaining tree stumps and pushed cleared trees to the fence line. Without their help, the field wouldn’t have been ready in time. Now the field is cleared and ready for planting and the trellis system.
Spring 2011 weather has been hard on many farmers and people across the South and Midwest. Our hearts go out to the thousands affected by the tornadoes in Alabama and the farmers in Missouri who lost 133,000 acres farmland due to the levee blasts this week. In just seven weeks at McCollum Orchards, we realized first-hand that growers are as guided by the weather as they are by the land. (Lockport is still cleaning up from the windstorm last week.) I wonder at how the generations before us weathered these storms without the help of modern tractors and chainsaws and weather apps on Smartphones. It must have taken a lot of friends. So, here’s to friends, family and sunny days!