What happened at the farm wasn’t the result of a hurricane, although a hurricane is exactly what we drought-weary Texans continue to hope for.  And we don’t really want one to hit our fair state’s coastline in a spot that could cause human peril.  Remember the hurricane that made landfall smack dab in the center of King Ranch some years ago?  Without damaging populated areas (though certain herds of cattle might take issue with this assessment), that hurricane treated a large chunk of our area with rain.

No, there was no hurricane at the farm last week.  The folks along the country’s east coast would have gladly sent us theirs, I’m sure, yet what hit us was more along the lines of a tornado.  A mini-tornado, mind you.  A dust devil.  But one that did indeed result in monetary loss…and that’s how the media quantifies the damage done by weather events, right?

Because it’s been upwards of one thousand degrees almost every day over the past three months, we’ve taken some steps to try to keep everyone at the farm shaded in the afternoon.  For one thing, whenever possible, Farmer John schedules garage work for the hottest hours of the day.

Crazily enough, now is the time to get flats seeded with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, greens, kohlrabi, fennel and all the other cool weather crops for fall.  Seems ridiculous, but if we don’t do it now, we’ll miss our target harvest months.  In fact, the seeding process began a few weeks ago and some of the crops have already been set out into the ground, like the first of the Asian greens inside one of the shade houses.

Others are still in the process of being “potted on,” i.e., transplanted from soil blocks into 3-1/2 inch pots.  And because the pots aren’t recyclable (darn those Number 8’s!) we reuse them each season.  Tossing out the old ones and buying new would save a whole lot of time, effort and waterlogged shoes — cleaning used pots is a drippy chore — but we simply can’t bring ourselves to do that.  Instead, before every potting on session, stacks and stacks of pots must be individually washed with blasts of water.

While everyone else sits inside the garage at tables under ceiling fans awaiting more clean pots from the designated washer, the person destined to become the soggiest (Dana, in this case) is relegated outdoors at the grate we use for this purpose.  When transplanting began in earnest earlier this month, John erected one of our market canopies over the grate to give the pot washer at least a bit of relief from the sun (though not from pruney toes).

Obviously, we weren’t worried about thunderstorms knocking down the tent, but no one considered dust devils.  And these tiny tornadoes happen more often than you might imagine.

I found myself on the edge of one last fall while checking on rows of cauliflower in the back forty, and was fortunate in that the little twisters make their presence known before they’re upon you.  Granted, they don’t roar like a freight train as described by people unlucky enough to be in the path of a tornado a la The Wizard of Oz, but you do indeed hear them coming.  That day, I watched the thing jostle every treetop along its route and backed away in time for it to merely graze me on its journey through the rest of the farm.

A few years ago, a dust devil lifted an entire pile of discarded drip tape and wrapped it hopelessly up and into the branches of a mesquite tree.  There have been countless incidents where whirlwinds ripped swaths of row covers in half, tossing one end to the right, the opposite end to the left.  One day we even noticed a giant hunk of the white fabric up on the hillside behind our house, flapping in the breeze from high atop an oak tree like some stranded skydiver.

So when John noticed a devil spin by our kitchen window during a recent lunch break and pointed it out to me (“Oh how cool!” I think we said), it really should have occurred to us that there might have been damage unseen from our vantage point.  I mean, it had to start somewhere, right?  Still, neither of us thought to investigate any further — we were hungry, after all — until we eventually wandered back outside.

Turns out, the pot washing grate had been directly in the mini-twister’s path.

As was our market canopy.  This is what’s left of it.

We’re all grateful Dana wasn’t still standing underneath it when the dust devil whooshed through.  She’s been the victim of a small tornado once in her life already, when during a vacation to the shores of North Carolina a water spout picked her up off a dock and deposited her feet-first into the shallows next to it.   While it could have been a whole lot worse had the spout twirled her upside-down prior to dropping her into the water — worse yet, had a house landed on top of her (How can someone not conjure up The Wizard of Oz in these situations?) — the jolt that shot through her knee when her feet made abrupt contact with the earth affects her to this day.

Thank goodness there were no injuries this time.  And though a new canopy isn’t cheap, at least we’ll be able to salvage a few spare parts from this one should we need them to repair another one some day.  Still, rain would have been nice.  A cruel joke, isn’t it, that a tiny cyclone rips through the farm without bringing with it a single drop?

Obviously, we need more than a teensy tornado to bring us rain — we have to keep hoping for a full-fledged hurricane.  Just please, if it could hit in a wilderness area again, that’d be great.  We hate to wish for anything that could destroy people’s houses.

Because I think we all agree, there’s no place like home.

* * * *

Our plan to reopen the farm stands at the end of September/beginning of October remains unchanged, despite this horrendous heat.  I’ll be back in touch soon to let everyone know exactly when that will happen!

Thanks…and keep thinking about rain!

Jo Dwyer

Angel Valley Organic Farm

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