The weather over the past few months in St. Thomas has been remarkably wet. We experienced more rainfall than in many years past. As a result, many customers are quite surprised when they attend local farmers markets and there aren’t a lot of fresh, locally grown vegetables available. Some customers question the will of farmers to produce, and the oft-made comment is, “With all this rain we’ve been having, this is all you have?”
In defense of farmers who have truly struggled over many, many months, here’s what’s happening.
Rain is great for growing plants and especially fruits and vegetables. So let’s talk about fruit first. Have you noticed that several mango trees are blooming and some are already laden with fruit at a time of year unheard of for harvesting this crop? Some genip (chenette, kenep) trees also had fruit at a very late time of year, much to the delight of those fortunate enough to have a tree growing in their yard. To some, this phenomenon adds to confusion caused by the extraordinary rainfall pattern which has created an unusual bounty of these fruit. Other fruit trees have also produced unexpected yields.
Well, just as the fruit trees are bursting forth, so are the weeds; in particular, those vines that twine around fruit trees and seedlings and eventually choke and destroy everything in their path. The almost daily rains have also made other weeds thrive like they haven’t before. Even as some of us clear a portion of our growing areas, before long the weeds are back with a vengeance. On entering my farm after a lengthy absence I was almost brought to tears. Some of the weeds were taller than I am. Weed whackers were no match for the tough stems which enjoyed almost constant feeding from the wet weather making them a difficult challenge to remove.
Just as weeds and some fruit trees thrived from the rains, other crops were plagued by it. Many farmers lost several plantings of vegetables simply because there was too much moisture in the soil. The primary complaint was that the ground has not had enough time to dry out, as a result, many roots rotted. One farmer lost over 200 tomato trees before any fruit could develop. The same happened with beans and other vegetables. Many rgetables that require a good balance of rain and dry periods have not produced. Thyme which does not like “wet feet” just gave up and refused to grow.
Some species of aphids love the damp weather. A contagion of this tiny bug can wipe out crops in short order. Those of us who grow leafy crops that are low to the ground have a different challenge. Crops like arugula and lettuce can thrive in wet weather. However, heavy rains can cause soil splatter, which ruins the leaves by making them discolored with spots and eventually causing tiny holes across the plants.
So while we love the “liquid sunshine”, some of us would like to have enough relief to allow the grounds to dry out as we begin again to try to capture a part of our season of planting.
Another scourge to produce farmers is the damage done to their crops by untethered or free roaming livestock animals and free ranging poultry. The wild chickens, known in some Caribbean communities as “yard fowls” have taken over some areas where they multiply unchecked. After farmers sow seeds, these pesky birds scratch up what was put down or pick at young seedlings and potential crops are ruined. Goats, sheep and to a lesser degree cattle, are another problem.
One farmer in Dorothea has lost crop after crop to animals belonging to a neighboring farmer who allows them to roam the hill foraging for food. Livestock owners have a responsibility to provide enough food and water for their animals. They also should provide adequate fencing around their properties so that their animals are contained. In the best of all possible farming worlds, livestock farmers and produce farmers would co-exist peacefully by sharing those elements that could benefit each other. Livestock farmers could provide manure for crop farmers and produce farmers could provide grass after clearing their lands. Thankfully, some of us enjoy this relationship. Alas, we are too few. As a result, some innocent animals pay with their lives when they trespass onto the land being farmed by vegetable producers.
As the New Year gains momentum it is our hope that our farming communities thrive. In these difficult times when challenges abound, we have to step up and help each other over this rough patch. We must grow enough to feed our families and our neighbors.
Happy Farming in 2012!