A Long But Busy Posting
Last week was one of the most exhausting since arriving in Nebraska last April. Part of it was because last year I was working on the wind protected perennial raised-bed garden behind the buildings downtown and vegetable test plots in town. Now that the seven 25X50 plots have been tilled and prepared and the drip irrigation has been put in, focus has shifted to the land on the southeast side of town.
Unprotected from the wind on the southeast, you can see across miles of open fields dotted with an archipelago of farmsteads enclosed in their evergreen windbreaks to the horizon. The small plot where Marv keeps his sheep provides some protection against the laminar flow from the south, but the old elms are of little help as the winds rise, making it difficult to walk.
I sailed quite a bit while living on the coast in a previous life, and there are indicators of wind speed that surprised me now across a sea of corn and beans. On an average windy day you could see the wind whip up whitecaps on Galveston Bay. These Force 6 winds, between 25-31 mph are a “strong breeze” and are frequent on the Great Plains. But incessantly, over several days, larger trees begin swaying with the flags in town popping – taut, outstretched show a constant 32-38 mph, “near gale” force. At night, the dull roar of the relentless wind left a thick layer of dust on tables and floors – carried through unsecured windows.
The wind, combined with the 90 degree temperatures, wreak havoc on vegetable seedlings. I put down a thick layer of straw mulch around the plants, but as gusts began to rise to strong gale force, 41-47 mph, the straw was flipped like a bad comb-over, exposing peppers, eggplant, and winter squash to the direct drying force. Hard to walk – or even to think – the wind pushes me along, and with it – my thoughts of the future in the garden when the plants will be much taller and much more susceptible to the wind.
Thankfully, I had the foresight to protect the six 50 foot rows of tomatoes under garden fabric – transmitting 90% of the light, but very little of the wind. Here, where such gusty winds are commonplace, the small plants are covered with gallon milk cartons, where they build strength and are well protected against the weather as well as the “wascal wabbit”, as Elmer Fudd would say. To make this work for me I would need more than 80 milk cartons for the tomatoes alone – not to mention the ones needed for other crops.
The other side of my exhaustion was how dry it was – compounded like a blow-torch in the wind. Although everything is now under drip irrigation, the wind seemed to evaporate it away as quickly as it dripped out of the t-tape. I have “zoned” my plots, given their size, so that each would receive adequate water. But, with a forecast without even a chance of rain and the impact it would have on dry land farms, it made me wonder how pioneer families could make it – and sometimes they didn’t – driven crazy by the dry winds of spring and summer.
All week the rumor of rain on Friday or Saturday made its way into conversation. Davenport is meteorologically interesting in that a 30% – 40% chance of rain means that we will usually see it pass to the north and east as it irrigates fields in Edgar, Shickley and Geneva. Most seem to be resigned to it, but the hope of rain would also be a hope to turn off irrigation and turn thoughts to other, less pressing matters – and that would be a real respite.
It did, however, rain at last, Saturday night – an inch and 20-hundredths out on the land. Gloriously, for over 4 hours, it drenched the land with sheets of water, and the dust was washed down the streets. At last a collective sigh was brought in with the cold front – dropping temperatures by 20 degrees. To the north there were sightings of tornadoes and golf ball sized hail, but here in Davenport, the deluge left everything clean and crisp, and I finally let out the breath I had been holding for what seemed to be a lifetime.
Opening of the Base Hit
Over the past 15 months a topic of even greater speculation in conversation than the weather was when the Base Hit would reopen in town. Lost to a fire in February of 2011, the fire was the topic of one of my first blog posts. The word evolved – first, whether the tavern would open, and then, slowly, as the land was prepared, the building constructed, and workmen came in and out – “when” became the operative word as to the time it would open its doors to serve its great Sunday buffet and noon meal specials.
Always the answer was, tantalizingly, “soon”, and finally, last Thursday and advertised on the bank marquee, the doors opened, and Lucille and her crew had an onslaught of visitors that pumped new life into town, overwhelming everyone’s expectations of the crowd – except, perhaps Lucille herself. Without basic services small towns die. The loss of the tavern left a huge gap in what brought people to town and with its return we are already see a huge influx of people on our main street.
This post was a bit delayed because, in spite of the wind, there has been a lot of planting going on. In addition to 50 foot rows of oregano, thyme, chamomile, and lavender (with more to come), Barbara’s cut flowers, cucumbers, Swiss chard, a boat load of radishes, and everything else already mentioned, there is also:
A 25X50 Foot Bed of Asparagus
Onions, Beans and Beets
To encourage the creation of habitat, the Little Blue NRD provides sapling trees and shrubs to plant for windbreaks and landscapes to the local producers and residents. To fill in between the Hackberry trees and Serviceberry bushes in my windbreak, I have begun to create a permaculture planting of mostly native trees and shrubs that grow harvestable fruit. The flags in the picture below mark the location of the 83 trees and shrubs that Barbara and I planted, including: Chokecherry, Sand Cherry, Hazelnuts, Nanking Cherry, American Plum, Golden Currants and lilacs. Most are smaller than the thickness of a pencil, but with the drip irrigation on them, I think this will become a lush habitat in the future. If you would like to see the planting plan, I would be more than happy to share it.
Farmers Market Workshop
As the second in a series to promote local produce and commerce in the community, the Center for Rural Affairs offered a workshop to discuss the details and requirements for the operation of a farmers market in Davenport. Conducted by Elaine Cranford, Specialist from UNL, 10 agriculturally minded residents of the area were excited to learn that Davenport will be holding its first farmers market Thursday evenings during the summer. In support of the Farmers Market, Lucille will have an evening special at the Base Hit, and Robin, at Treasures, the local consignment store will stay open later to support the Farmers Market.