Friday, July 23, 2010

Water and things that grow from it

Well, we finally got some decent rain. The fields were getting really thirsty & we were ready to start pumping from the creek again, after a few weeks of having city water on 24-7, switching valves to make sure everything got a drink... and feeling like we could hardly keep up with the sun's evaporating rays. More on this later.

We had probably the best share yet this week! The tomatoes have started ripening, much to my amazement (I'm still in emotional shock from last year's blight experience)-- the eggplants are huge, the cucumbers and squash are prolific, and we have carrots, beets, scallions, and beans out our ears now. And speaking of ears, the corn is growing them-- and melons are secretly rounding out under the dense tangle of vines. We are pulling weeds like madmen.

I turned 30 years old yesterday, and what a better gift than to have the heavens open up and drench us with solid bucketfuls of "natural irrigation." This means I get to have a nice day off, sleep in, and not worry about watering.

But we've had a crazy summer so far in that realm, reminding me of farming in California, where the very existence of vegetables in summer means hooking them up to life-support. So far we had gotten by on just irrigating with the landowner's household spigot-- we can do this because in upstate New York it usually rains regularly all summer! But this spring we had to hook up a really old antique pump to 1,000 feet of tubing to get everything watered.

Why 1,000 feet you say, when Mud Creek is right behind your fields? Well, because we are just downstream from a wastewater treatment plant. And although they just got an $18 million upgrade, I trust my nose more than government-accepted levels of "safe". And it's not poop that I'm worried about. It's everything else that people flush down toilets, use in the shower, and spread on their bodies. The smell I get when I go down to the creek to dip my feet is one of a chemical shampoo cocktail.

The guys at the wastewater treatment plant were really nice, letting us use their access road to move the pump to a new location, upstream of their effluent release in Mud Creek. The site we had irrigated in the spring from was Fish Creek, a tributary across a stretch of floodplain, but the neighbors had a really hard time listening to it. Gas-powered pumps just make a lot of noise. And they wouldn't have it. So we hauled everything over, all 1,000 feet of line. We're hoping the new location won't bother anyone. Farming in the suburbs.

We were told at the plant that the water they release is cleaner than the water in the creek. They add chlorine to sterilize it, but all the chlorine is off-gassed before it is released. The new thing that they've had to start adding was alum, which removes phosphates. I don't know much about this, but I do know that phosphates have something to do with why the pond at the corner of McMahon Road and Plaster Mill is completely covered with a sheet of algae-- I'm guessing the fertilizer used on the golf course has something to do with it. Poor blue heron stands there looking for fish all day, but the fish are probably dying due to lack of oxygen from that algae growth. So we can golf on green.

Anyway, I wasn't taking any chances with irrigating from our treated wastewater. Even with no phosphates or chlorine, who knows what other kinds of elixers are created when you mix Drano with Purell, or Herbal Essence with Off!. In my daily life I try to use only biodegradable products. Everything gets recycled in the great compost dance of growth and decay. And we could have healthy streams & rivers that we could still play in and water our food with.

We went to the nearby neighbor's house to let them know we'd be running a loud pump occasionally. Wes was his name, and he'd lived there 60 years. Gave us the historical tour-- right behind his house is the old stone mill, that used to grind grain using the power of Mud Creek. Then it was an ice-house -- a field was flooded in the winter, and then cut & stacked inside the super-thick stone walls, to keep food fresh all summer until it melted! He spoke of mill races, and how all the neighborhood kids would skate down the creek all the way to Macedon. Back then, he said, if you were thirsty, you'd just stick your skate blade through the ice, and take a drink. Not now, though. The creek doesn't even freeze now, with the warm water release from the plants.

My other neighbor spoke of catching tons of huge, delicious fish, and a swimming hole that the locals used to call "Bare-Ass Beach" ... I still found the giant tree that created a dam across the creek to make that nice, deep, cool water. But no one swims there now. You can see the shampoo-esque bubbles floating slowly through the place.

What happened to us, that we turned our back on our creeks like this? I know we didn't do it on purpose. Everyone wants a clear running natural water source, that our kids can skate on or wade in. Maybe we wanted other things more. Like chemically-created products to serve our every need or whim. And an easy *flush* to carry them away when we are done with them.

But, gosh it is hot working long days in the fields, and I sure could use a swimming hole. And ultimately all of our nourishment relies on the pureness of the water we use to keep our vegetables alive.

No comments: