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Rainfall already near year’s average

Rainfall already near year’s average

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

With the passing of the first trimester of the year at the end of April, we had already received more than four-fifths of the average year’s precipitation. Floodwaters all across the Southeast have made headlines for weeks on end and are just now receding in some areas.
The rains have been followed with plentiful warm, even hot, days and increasing humidity. The combination of moisture, heat and humidity has growth burgeoning at warp speed. Many of your perennials will extend growth well past their normal stature and perhaps necessitate staking of weaker stems soon.
I’m not complaining. After the three historic droughts in the past four years, I have promised not to complain about excess moisture, though on our sloping property there was considerable erosion. I’d rather have that any day than the debilitating droughts.
Most of us garden on rather heavy clay. Once saturated, such soils take longer to dry out, but, on the other hand, they take longer to become wet again after a dry spell. It took just about all that rain to saturate the ground deeply enough on upland areas for new moisture to meet old. A drought is not totally beaten until that happens.
Last year’s extreme drought dried out even deep subsoils to desert levels. I remember in the fall watching a backhoe dig a trench some six feet deep on high ground. The ground was powder dry even at that depth, and resembled polished marble where the backhoe scraped the sides of the ditch. It was a large machine with a lot of horsepower, but even it had to take an extra grunt at each bite of the hoe.
It seemed at that time that any future precipitation would never be adequate enough to wet the soil at six feet deep, but it has happened. Yes, the drought of 2010 is over at last.
Not that I am breathing easy, by any means. Pessimist (realist, that is) that I am, I can easily foresee more of those droughts rearing their ugly heads. I am constantly looking over my shoulder and anticipating descent of the sword of Damocles at any moment.
That might be a terrible way to garden (or do anything else for that matter) but I have found the fear of retribution to serve me to advantageous stead before. Preparing for the worst is no bad thing, though it shouldn  t bring one to despondency.
To wit: wading around in mud while applying mulch to conserve moisture might seem like an exercise in futility, if not downright stupidity. But trapping that muddy moisture under a new coating of mulch will ensure better retainment of moisture than it would have if applied to dry ground. It takes considerable rain or irrigation to penetrate a three-inch layer of mulch, and to do any good the ground must become saturated. If it is already in such a condition you have, in effect, conserved a potential of three or four inches of rain which might, or might not, appear.
It is important, however, to do no more tromping on wet, heavy clay than is necessary. After a three-inch deluge, it is well to stay off your beds, vegetable or ornamental, until the ground has dried somewhat. Compressing heavy clay simply adds to the woes that kind of soil brings on even at best.
I’ll say it again: I am not complaining about all that rain. I do fervently hope, however, that there will be some in July and August.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — (With apologies to Benjamin Franklin): An inch of rain saved is an inch or rain earned.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 5.24.11