Farmers' Lament: Quarter Inch of Rain


The corn is ready and the season's garden tomatoes are not too far behind. Island farmers are in the midst of their season. If one were to summarize the season in only three words, those words might be: dry, deer and arugula.

The weather in the last month has been too dry. Deer are doing a lot of harvesting before the farmhands get out in the morning. And there's a big rush on arugula at the West Tisbury Farmers' Market every Saturday and Wednesday.

"We could use some more rain," said Deborah Farber of Black Water Farm. Rain amounts in the last couple of weeks have been below average. It clearly is not as bad as last summer, but it is another issue this summer. In the last week, the Island has seen but a quarter inch of rain. Farmers would like an occasional shower, not long stretches of dryness.

In anticipation that there would be a shortage of rain this summer, Marie Scott at Beetlebung Farm in Chilmark added irrigation to her acre garden. She is using an irrigation system that involves leaking rubber hoses. The system waters the plants almost continuously and with the least amount of water. "It waters a lot of area without straining the well," she said.

Rebecca Miller at North Tabor Farm is also doing this kind of drip irrigation for the first time. "For the last three summers it was so dry, so this year we are doing drip irrigation. The plants are doing so much better."

Deer are always a problem on the Vineyard. There are deer sneaking into gardens from Chappaquiddick to Aquinnah. Mrs. Scott has a strategy that might be working, but it is hard to tell.

Out in the fields of her farm she has placed a radio wrapped in black plastic and it is plugged in. The radio isn't so obvious until at night when it is turned on. She said the sound of the radio is intended to scare the deer away; she plays WMVY.

"I'm not sure it is working. We are thinking that the deer are getting together at night and now they are having a party," she said.

There is plenty of evidence deer are still munching, but the farmer isn't clear on how much. So far she sees they are chewing on the weeds surrounding her rows of beans.

Other farmers have tried using a mix of jalapeno peppers spread on plants.

Kristen Kinser of Hillside Farms in West Tisbury has her own opinion about deer. "We planted 12 rows of peas this year. We picked four, which means the crows and the deer got the rest," she said.

And this is definitely the season of arugula, a spicy green lettuce.

Ms. Farber said that arugula is a hot item this summer, more than in past years. The plant is a light leafy green and suits any salad. It is a spring plant and does well into the summer. Ms. Farber said her arugula seemed to enjoy the cooler start to summer the Vineyard experienced this year.

Ms. Miller was selling a lot of arugula at the farmers' market on Saturday. "The salad greens are getting a lot more heat now and this makes them a little more spicy," she said.

Snap dragons and lilies are at their peak, Ms. Miller said. She is cultivating six acres, tending and picking greens and flowers.

Lisa Fisher of Stannard Farms in West Tisbury started picking beans last week. "The beans are early, skinny and cute. This week the beans are doing well. They weren't ready last week," she said.

Everything in the Stannard Farms garden is taking off. "We finally got the temperature and a little water," she said.

The basil which has done well across the Island is taking off now.

"At this time of year," she said, "everything takes off. Then the bugs arrive and then the garden doesn't look so good."

The success of summer farming is dependent on pollination and bees do it best. Neil Flynn of West Tisbury raises bees and makes honey. "The bees are doing really well. We don't know what the flow will be until the fall, but spring was great!"

Mr. Flynn said his bees look busy. "If the bees don't make money, then I don't make money. If the bees aren't happy, then I am not happy."