Musings over Water

The recent flooding in Kentucky left many areas with damage along the watershed. Fallen trees, limbs, severe erosion, and new cut-aways are a problem for some local farmers, bridges, roads, and homes. There is now assistance available for those needing emergency help. See Emergency Assistance.

Mother Nature did not spare our area of the incessant rainfall over the course of several weeks in April and June. Near the cattle farm, a neighbor now has several large trees wedged beneath his bridge– his only access to his farm. The concrete on the bridge is crumbling in places, as well. Bad enough that there is a danger, should it collapse under the weight of his vehicle or equipment, or that it would prevent his family from getting in and out, but should the trees further dam the creek, as they did during the storms, other neighbors, like us, would not access their own farms because of water over the main road. Hopefully, he is aware of the program mentioned above.

Meanwhile, the dear Mother is packing another punch, because since the rain ceased temperatures soared into the 90s. Our clay soil now seems baked like a ceramic pot around the roots of the new plantings. Mike dug a couple of potato plants up yesterday to check them, only to find the soil dry down to the furthest roots. They are not forecasting rain again for another week. Hopefully, this will not be the beginnings of the Great Drought of 2011.

Funny how, so far, our weather this year sort of mimics that of 1937. The months are a bit off, I mean, major flooding in 1937 took place in January and February not April and May, but the extreme winter temps followed by record flooding is similar. If there is a pattern to this, we should expect a drought by mid summer. Even late-sown soybeans would be at risk, if that’s the case.

But at least for now, the garden looks alright. Admittedly, the best growing seeds we sowed seem to be the sunflowers put out for the wildlife, but we take pleasure in what we can. The potato plants are almost knee-high and just beginning to bloom because they had a head start before the rain hit. It will not be long before we need to drive the stakes for the Florida Weave on the tomatoes, but at least today, the soil is too dry and hard and even using a sledge-hammer, the stakes probably won’t go into the ground.

Drought with summer heat can also be a problem for the cattle, as drinking water helps the animals cool off. During a high heat day, they can drink five to ten gallons (or more) of water per day, per animal. Ours do not get “city water” because it is expensive and there are no pipes anywhere near their pen. We can fill at the house and haul it by tank in the pick up truck during an emergency, but that is not ideal. Instead, we pump water from the creek, just as another neighbor pumps it to the drip lines for his cantaloupes, tomatoes, and peppers he sells to a Chicago market. Further up and down the stream, other farmers do the same, but in drought conditions, like last summer, the creek dries up and the only thing to do is either haul water, or let the crops wither. Obviously, that is not something you can do with cattle. We need a plan B, other than selling the cattle early, should drought occur.

As a city-girl, water shortages never really entered my mind. I mean, sure, in California, we had water shortages where we could not wash our cars, could only water our lawns on given days, and had to order water in a restaurant, but we still went to the tap and voilà! Water. In rural communities, it is more of a concern. City-county owned water tanks can also go dry, thus farming households can be limited in the amount they can draw.

I was excited recently to read that one of the reasons this land was chosen for bourbon production two hundred years ago was because of a natural spring on the property. I was equally disappointed to learn that where the land has since been parcelled out, the spring is now on a local horse farm. So long as the aquifer holds out, the horses will have plenty of water. We need to find it elsewhere, if possible. Mike is not concerned…well, he is concerned but the costs involved preclude taking any action now. All we can do is hope there is no drought like the past few summers.

I have to admit I’m tempted to try my father’s water-witching. He was in the military and when I was a child we lived all over the world. Dad water-witched in many countries, not for well digging, but to trace pipe leaks. I was eleven or twelve when he proved to me that his method worked. He bent two copper tubes, about the diameter of your little finger, into L shapes. Then holding the short end of the L gently, walked with the ends facing to the front of him. The tubes would cross over running water. It even worked when our California neighbors dichondra was so saturated that it was like walking on a sponge. He water-witched, and immediately found the leak.

I’m wondering if it would work for me, and if it did, how deep the water would be, and for how long in a drought. Might make for a good experiment.

On a separate note, a fellow blogger posted a link to a video of the Springfield, Massachusetts tornado as it entered town. Scary to see what it did to the river before hitting the town. You can see it here: http://blackjackoak.wordpress.com/

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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