“Is this the kind of wind that signals the coming of rain?” Asa asks Daddy in the cool dawn darkness of Thursday morning, ripping off old, shriveled leaves off of deep purple beets and sorting them into piles of different sizes for Daddy to make bunches out of. Sure enough, the air is moving in an eerie way, rippling through my hair as I handle the Golden beets in the same way across from Asa. Daddy, sitting between us, twirling beet bunches with flourish, answers curtly. “No, that’s the kind of wind that signals that the rainclouds are departing.”
Except for a few strange, sudden five minute showers that, as Daddy says, “mean nothing”, Henry’s Farm has not received a single drop of rain again this week. I had heard on the radio earlier in the week that Illinois is suffering from the worst drought since 1988 this year. Corn and soybean production is expected to be severely limited, so farmers have been petitioning for help from the government. Similarly, we have been suffering as well, and to be true, if we do not irrigate on a daily basis, our farm would be quite barren. Some crops, such as summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes, are not doing so well even with irrigation. The summer squash plants are covered with squash beetle eggs, and most are already getting eaten alive by the stink bug look-a-likes. Grandpa informed us that this may be due to the fact that the bacteria that work to eat the squash beetle larvae die off in the intense heat, so more eggs survive. My heart also drops whenever we harvest tomatoes, since most have a mysterious “butt disease”, as I like to call it, which causes the tomato ends to rot. We hypothesize that this illness is due to a lack of calcium in the soil. I am hoping that the first fruits will be the only ones that have this odd rot, since the heirloom tomatoes we picked on Tuesday in the greenhouse did not have much butt disease, but hoping, I have come to conclude this year, does not change anything.
But I am glad that our farm has a great variety of vegetable kinds and varieties, since while summer crops seem to be less productive this year, other crops are doing better than last year. The carrots that Matt, Lucas and I are pulling from the ground and bunching, for example, are beautiful – the roots large and tops sturdy. When Daddy was showing us the bunch size, he commented that regular irrigation leads to gorgeous root vegetables. “In regular years, they either get too much rain or too little,” he explained. “I understand now why most of our vegetables are grown in the California and Arizona desert.”
“But they’re also draining the river there, right?” Matt had interjected then. How true, I think to myself as I remember this, burrowing my hands down into the damp, black, just-irrigated soil. The regular irrigation we have been doing all summer has been slowly draining our own supply of our reservoir of glacier water, a precious resource.
It is also very taxing to our physical and mental stamina, I think later, as we attempt to set up new lines on another section of the farm after making hundreds of onion bunches and digging potatoes. This time, we had enough lines to drag over from another section, which was great. However, now Sydney is spearheading an expedition to find another header line (the bigger hose that connects to the even larger, fire hose, in which all of the drip tape lines are to be connected) to stretch out until the end of the rows we want to water this time. Mass confusion ensues as Sydney wants to use a line that is now being used to irrigate another set of rows, and we are all yelling out different ideas as to what we should do. I set out to try and find another header line somewhere in this expansive field, as Sydney suggests. Finally, we just decide to snap off the section of the header line that is not being used, and we all line up – me in front, then Kazami, Janaki, Sydney and Lucas – lift it over our heads, and start the procession across the field. When we finally figure out how to connect the header line to the other one, and then cap the end so that the water does not flow out, Val and Matt are still attempting to figure out how to connect the red fire hoses. By the time we are in the truck, heading back to the wash area, we are all drained from running out the lines in the heat and from thinking about what goes where, and how to go about doing it.
There is something about this never-ending heat and dry spell that causes every Brockman family member to pass out almost instantly after coming home after eight hours of work in the field, after eating Mommy’s delicious homemade basil, tomato and mozzarella cheese pizza, and after taking a cool, refreshing shower. We sleep like the dead for hours, until Daddy has to wake up to wash all of the root vegetables, and I convince myself to lift my heavy body out of bed. As I head back to the house after putting the washed veggies in the cooler, I spot Koko in the shade underneath the Market truck, eyes closed, her legs splayed out in ultimate relaxation, breathing slowly, deep in slumber, and I bet she is dreaming of cooler days.