Last year for the first time in living memory, and by that I mean the memory of the oldest residents living in our area... 90 years old and better... our creek-- the one that runs between the barn and the garden-- dried up. Completely. One August morning there were a few thin pools of lethargic anoxic little fish, and by that afternoon, they were belly to the sky, drying in the searing sun. The silence was like a death, the creekbed a lifeless trench without flow or sound or hope. It was not a good gardening year.
Early in the season that started with a spring so dry the blackberries barely set flowers and made only dry little knots for fruit, there had at least been enough water in the creek that I was able to pull a few gallons a minute from a 6" deep pool near the barn and pump it across the road in a garden hose to the garden. Anticipating the need to irrigate, I rigged up the small pump with a tractor battery to fill my rows of beans and corn with creek water two or three times a week until the rains would come again. Surely they would come. I dug long trenches with my hoe, and the seeds went down in the bottom of the furrow. After the plants were established, I could set the hose in one end of a trench and pull water out of the creek until each trench was full before moving to the next. It was a pretty good system. Until the source went dry. The garden withered and died by mid August, and that was that.
Last week I put in Buttercrunch and Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce, Spinach, Early Kale, Swiss Chard and the first patch of Silver Queen corn. I got so excited about getting something in the ground that I forgot to plant the garden in trenches... the method that had worked so well-- for a while-- during our dry summer last year. Forgetting to trench, it turns out, might be just fine. So far, it has been as wet this year as it was dry last. We've had frog-choking rains almost every day here lately, including today. I just looked out at the garden to see the 'land of a thousand lakes' as that area must appear from the air: every footprint that I left with last week's tilling is now a miniature glacial lake full of water. Had I planted in trenches, the long sunken rows would be miniature inland canals full to their banks, and the seeds at the bottom would surely rot during these relentless cold rainy days.
Just shows to go ya. No matter what you do in trying to outsmart the gardening gods, you and your vegetables are totally subject to the vagaries of mindless air masses that sometimes favor, sometimes punish. The rain falls and the wilting sun beams on the godly and the ungodly alike. I understand that 'fusarium resistant', 'slow-bolt', 'early bearing', 'long-standing', 'high yielding'... are all merely happy fortune cookie futures from the backs of the seductive seed packets. Your mileage may vary. And yet, I can already see this year's garden in my hopes, as it might grow to be. I stand here watching my seeds deluged by the floods of late May, prepared for those thrills and agonies that will come, knowing that when it comes right down to it, chance is likely to trump a gardener's best design.
When all is said and done, some of the fruits of our labor will end up in colorful rows on our cellar shelves in the Fall, Mason jars bearing testimony to this gardening year's good luck and God's blessing, a dash of chance and a pinch of miracle, and enough but not too much rain.