The only good thing about our well water is it’s wet. We send off water and soil samples to a lab in South Texas for testing every two or three years, and each time we receive results saying, essentially, Stop! Stop using that horrendous water! You’ll kill EVERYTHING!

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not all that far off.

It’s the salt, you see. The sodium level in our water is so high, the lab report claims it will burn any plant matter it comes into contact with. Obviously, we use the water anyway. I mean, really, what choice do we have? In fact, we’ve always kind of blown off the dire warnings, knowing full well that our farm produces all sorts of vegetables and greens and lettuces and such. Yearly, we thumbed our noses at the lab report and kept trudging along.

Then this year happened. So little water has fallen from the sky to dilute the effects of our caustic well water, we know in our heart of hearts what kind of damage is being done to the soil. Until it does finally rain (last week’s .05” doesn’t count), that salt isn’t going anywhere.

To make matters worse, our rainwater tank for the greenhouses ran dry a while back. Prior to this unfortunate event, we’d always started our plants using clean, stored rain. Only after we set them out into the fields were they exposed to the true trials of farm life — extreme weather, insect intrusion, soil diseases and yes, the ravages of our well water.

Yet with no rainwater in the tank, we were forced to use well water in the greenhouses. The results weren’t pretty. In fact, while Farmer John and I were galavanting through Hungary for over two weeks, most all the tiny greenhouse starts burned up from the twice daily salt showers they received via watering wands.

Dana and Mary searched out water delivery, which necessitated purchasing a chlorine filter for the greenhouse pump. As soon as John and I returned home, we ordered up 2000 gallons.

It helped. Immensely. The few flats that survived the greenhouse torture seem to have pulled themselves back from the abyss, and our newly planted lettuces are doing fine.

We haven’t let on to them what it’ll be like once they’re set out into their permanent, salty rows. Just like Dana and Mary kept the full extent of death and destruction secret from us as we were enjoying our vacation, we’ll let these tiny lettuces have fun while they’re able. We appreciated our utopia while it lasted; the least we should do is pass forward the same favor wherever we can.

Lettuce requires tender loving care early on, regardless of the cruelty it’ll face at its final destination. It’s especially persnickety when it comes to germination. Lettuce seed is downright stubborn if the environment is too warm, yet it doesn’t want to be covered with a layer of cooling soil either. Oh no no. Like Goldilocks with her porridge and the Princess with that pesky pea, lettuce insists everything be just right.

Consequently, we’ve learned that in order to get our fall lettuces started in a timely manner, we have to germinate the first round inside the air-conditioned house. We cover the counters and sinks in our second kitchen with flats of freshly-planted lettuces, carrying them outside daily to douse the seedlings with rainwater from our household tanks (which, this year, have also dried up). For this purpose, we set up a makeshift watering rack immediately outside the solarium door.

This system, although a bit cumbersome, has always worked beautifully. And there was no reason to believe the same wouldn’t hold true once more. (This was prior to the discovery that our well water and young seedlings don’t at all get along.)

Again, however, this year happened. With little rain came little food for wildlife, and as soon as we turned our backs on the dripping lettuce flats, Cardinals and Purple Finches nosedived (beakdived?) the teensy plants. We lost almost all of them.

Isn’t this a sad story? All is not bleak, though, not by a long shot. Despite lousy weather and lousy water, 95 percent of the crops out in the fields are, if not exactly thriving, doing pretty darned well. It helps that we added to our existing supply of shade cloth and have used every stitch of it to cover as much as possible.

These extras — the water delivery, the chlorine filter, the additional rolls of shade cloth — haven’t come cheap. We even purchased 300 broccoli starts in 4” pots from a certified organic nursery in an attempt to partially assuage the loss of late-succession broccoli that succumbed to death-by-well-water in our greenhouses.

It’s all a big gamble, yet it’s one we’ve chosen to take. The alternative would be to throw in the towel for a late fall season, and we’re not ready for that. Undeniably, a good portion of farming is a gamble anyway, and because you sure can’t count on Lady Luck always being on your side…you gots to do what you gots to do.

* * *

We were able to stay open until 1:00 last Wednesday, and it looks like we’ll have the same quantity this week too! We’ll be bringing:

Beautiful eggplant (three varieties); MANY bunches of chard; bunches of Asian mustard greens**; four varieties of summer squash (zucchini, Zephyr, yellow squash and Cousa); bags of arugula; the first Cubanelle peppers from the new crop; Asian cucumbers; spaghetti squash; acorn squash; and some odds and ends.

**Wonder what to do with those gorgeous Asian greens? Saute or steam the chopped leaves (and stems of most the varieties!) and fold into an omelette. Or add them to tacos or quesadillas. Or slather them between the slices of bread on a grilled cheese sandwich. They’re delicious!! (They’re yummy raw, too!)

***By the way, we’re reopening our Jonestown farm stand this Saturday!

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-1:00 or 2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)