Massachusetts has seen below-average rainfall for the past four months. Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides declared a Level 2 – Significant Drought in all seven regions of the state. They are recommending that households and businesses limit outdoor watering to one day a week after 5pm and before 9am. There is also a risk of wildfires so be careful when using grills or lighting matches outside. Thankfully, here at Stearns, we are able to irrigate with city water with no restrictions. While this is extremely beneficial to keeping our plants alive, municipal water is missing a few key things that plants need to thrive.

Plants prefer slightly acidic soil, somewhere in the 5.5 and 6.5 range. This range makes it possible for plants to access important nutrients such as copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc from the soil. Coincidentally, this is also the pH of rainwater. Rainwater collects impurities from the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, which is a weak acid. City water, however, is treated to be alkaline to keep the metal pipes it travels through from corroding. Tap water is also treated with chlorine and fluoride, which plants don’t need and which can build up in the soil or on their leaves and can be harmful to plants. Rainwater contains nitrates (nitrogen + oxygen) which is nature’s way of making nitrogen accessible to plants. This is significant because nitrogen is considered a macronutrient and is necessary for the growth and development of lush foliage.

What does this mean for the plants at Stearns? The drought may be the reason why we have seen some evidence of stunted growth, but it’s hard to know exactly what is causing this. We do add an organic fertilizer at the beginning of planting to help give seedlings a boost of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients help plants grow foliage, resist disease, stimulate root growth, and encourage flowers to form. Some crops that are in the ground for a long time (such as tomatoes, leeks, cabbage, and carrots) benefit from another application of fertilizer, especially when they haven’t been getting a consistent supply of nitrates and other trace minerals from rain.

With careful monitoring, we are able to water our fields and apply extra fertilizer when needed. In the meantime, let’s hope for more rain in the near future to help feed all our fall crops!

Until next time,