Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dry, Dry, Dry

Even the woods are suffering.

The ground has been dust for a month, except for the rare shower that just wet the surface to taunt the trees.  Although the vegetable garden is sensitive to even two weeks without rain, it's a little unusual to see wild plants wilt.  Ordinarily, plants wilt only in the heat of direct sun, recovering in the shade.  But this morning many plants--herbs, and even shrubs--were wilted before the sun had risen on them.  They were not able to recover even overnight.  Around the neighborhood, some sugar maple trees have been turning prematurely, and white oaks and white ashes have been losing a lot of leaves still green. 

 Heart-leaved aster.

Gray dogwood makes most of the shrub layer in my tiny wood.
It is really hurting.

The foxgrapes are ripe and smell good, but the leaves are wilted.

People are often clueless.  I am often greeted with "isn't this great weather!" and the like.  With lowering brows I mutter about the cries of distress from plants, dampening people's moods if not the ground. 

Last legs: little more than half the plants still alive, and most of those failing.
We may get a few more tomatoes, but I try not to set my heart on it..

I can't exactly blame the drought for the condition of our little vegetable garden: we have rain barrels under some of the downspouts, and even a brief shower will give us a few dozen gallons for watering.  And to keep the tomatoes coming (LOVE tomato sandwiches and salads) we have several times resorted to watering from the mains.  I have been watering at least once--and often two two or three times--a week.  No: my brown thumb is more likely to blame for the state of the garden.

But the trees in particular have me worried.  I went through near panic a week ago at the leaf loss by our majestic seventy-foot white ash--perhaps our best tree.  I was half-convinced it was under attack by the Emerald Ash Borer.  This alien invasive insect, introduced in Michigan and spreading nearly nationwide, threatens ash trees everywhere--it is considered the most destructive insect pest in the country right now.  It was first reported in western Massachusetts two years ago and is bearing down on eastern Mass.  Only the fact that a number of ash trees in the neighborhood began losing leaves almost simultaneously finally convinced me that drought was to blame, and that we had a little longer to wait for the insect onslaught.

The big ash is losing green leaves, but more are dying in the crown.
This was more than a week ago.

 By the way, you can't trust the weather records on rainfall--especially when it comes to the highly-local showers and thunderstorms of summer.  The same town can be have flooding at one end and be barely wetted at the other.  Instead I have a couple of straight-sided, flat-bottomed coffee mugs around the garden.  At least two or three is wise, so you can catch local variation, the effects of trees and buildings and wind.

As I look back at my journal, I see we had about two-and-a-half inches of rain back on July 4, and then about 3/4 inch on July 16 and another 3/4 on about August 16.*  There has been nothing over an eighth of an inch every couple of weeks since then, and no very substantial rain in over two months.*  *Edit. (Oops--forgot the 3/4 in mid-Aug.)

It's worth mentioning that plants are adapted to water stress: if the water pressure in a leaf drops, special openings called stomata close, reducing further water loss.   A plant with closed stomata is "holding its breath," since it cannot do photosynthesis very well if CO2 and O2 can't get in and out.  But wilt shows that a plant has lost water in spite of having closed stomata--it is a sign of more prolonged stress.

As I write this, we are sorta promised  showers and thundershowers late this afternoon.  I've heard that too many times before to take it too seriously, but maybe if I go walk the dogs on the pond shore that will attract rain...   

Gotta go see.

My son walks the dogs where there once was water.

The green algae coating tells you where the sand is still  at least damp.  
I have not seen the pond so low in the four or five years I've been watching it.

  PS: Walked at pond, watched sky clear, and heard storms were passing north of Boston (we are south).  On the other hand, I hear thunder now as 8pm nears.

PPS: We DID get some rain--a few minutes of downpour, anyway--and lots of lightning and thunder.  On impulse I grabbed camera and tripod and set them up facing a patch of open sky.  I hit the video button, then ran for the house, getting in the back door just at the biggest flash and most ear-splitting crack.  I vowed not to make fun of my wife's fear of lightning ever again.  The rain stopped in maybe ten minutes, and thunder died to a distant grumble in maybe ten minutes more.  Total in the gauge: only 1/4 inch.  At least the rain barrels got it.

The entire storm in 15 minutes.  (Most of the excitement is in the first few.)  The funny-looking thing that becomes visible in the middle foreground is my tiny cabin sailboat, Surprise.

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