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Earth Matters Now that fall is here, a look back at the rainy summer

September 22, 2018

At the end of this wet summer, it may be fungus — not frost — that whitens pumpkins lying in the field.

For instead of the droughty summers of the past three or four years, it’s been raining regularly, since late July.

Trees that have been parched for water in the past have drunk their fill this year. Weeds that normally grow like themselves have gone into overdrive.

And area farmers and fruit growers have had to contend with weather that swung around the compass.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Paul Bucciaglia, of Fort Hill Farm, an organic farm in New Milford.

It’s not that every crop has suffered. Corn has been good, ditto on tomatoes.

But some have not done well. Howard Bronson of Maple Bank Farm in Roxbury said he lost a second planting of summer squash to fungal diseases.

“We got 18 inches of rain here in August,” Bronson said. “We have well-drained fields, but there was standing water in some places.”

“With fungi, the plants don’t grow,” said Eugene Reelick, owner of Hollandia Nurseries in Bethel.

The weather has also stunted business, Reelick said.

“In hot, humid weather, who wants to come out to buy plants?” he said.

Here is a brief summary on the growing season:

The spring, rather than bouncing in like a lamb, was aloof and frigid.

“If you remember back, it was cold and dry,” Bucciaglia said.

It also featured tornadoes blowing through.

Chris Seifert, manager of Blue Jay Orchards in Bethel, said the orchard lost some of its crop to the mid-May tornado winds.

“The tornado blew some blossoms off the trees,” Seifert said. “They never got a chance to germinate.”

June was better. Both Bucciaglia and Bronson said they had good lettuce to sell customers in their first plantings.

The second planting, not so great. It went from hot and dry to soaking very quickly.

“We went out of salad mix in July,” Bronson said. “You just couldn’t keep it growing.”

When the rains really started coming, fields that usually were dry and easily worked became muddy.

“It was hard on people, too,” Bucciaglia said. “We have great people working here. But all that humidity was hard on them.”

Weeds flourished. But lots of other things, even backyard grass, had problems.

Pam Cooper of the University of Connecticut Home and Garden Education Center in Storrs said some grass, which has short roots, got waterlogged in all the rain and yielded to crabgrass.

“We are seeing a lot of turf diseases,” she said.

There have also been a lot of plant diseases, like downy mildew — a microbial parasite — and powdery mildew — a fungal disease. There’s also Plectosporium, a fungal disease that shows up on summer squash and pumpkins.

“You get a lot of everything,” Cooper said. “This year has been a disaster.”

But not entirely.

Ordinarily, lots of rain means non-source pollution — storm runoff carrying lawn fertilizer, road salt and sand, eroded soil — flowing into rivers and lakes.

This year, however, it didn’t seem to matter. The water quality in the area’s biggest lake — Candlewood Lake — has been spared its near-annual algae blooms.

“We’ve had exceptionally good water quality,” said Larry Marsicano, of Aquatic Ecosystems Research, which does water quality testing for the Candlewood Lake Authority.

Forests may be getting a long-needed drink after the string of drought years.

“Trees have been wanting this for a long time,” said Chris Martin, state forester for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “It’s a welcome reprieve.”

Geordie Elkins, a horticulturalist at Highstead Arboretum in Redding, said he’s seen lots of fungal growth in the woods.

“It’s more than I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

That’s a good thing.

“The fungi benefit the trees,” he said.

The one thing that the wet has brought on, Elkins said, is trees toppling over in the wind because the soaked soil couldn’t anchor their roots.

“I wouldn’t expect to see as many as I have this year,” he said.

With the autumnal equinox just passed, the hope is that there will be a spell of good fall weather — dry and crisp and a little cool. That will set leaves turning and bring people to farm stands and orchards. The harvest — while stymied a bit — is still happening.

“Local farmers might have eight out of the 10 crops they usually sell,” Bucciaglia said. “People have to keep coming out to support them.”

Contact Robert Miller at earthmattersrgm@gmail.com

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