Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

July 31, 2014
Earth, wind and fire — Come on, let’s get more rain

Thanks, Tooele Valley, for supporting the Farmer’s Markets in the area. Your desire to obtain fresh produce and enjoy products made right here in our area is much appreciated. Walt Barlow of the Benson Grist Mill Farmer’s Market reported they are off to a very good start with strong attendance. One of the great things about this type of market is it is a true reflection of our surrounding areas, of the efforts of our friends and neighbors, and where we are in the growing season. Regular visits to area Farmer’s Markets (check out tooelehealth.org/livefittc/nutrition-resources/farm-to-community/ for a listing of Farmer’s Markets) will reveal different offerings from week to week. Earlier cool weather crops such as onions, kale, spinach, and lettuce will give way to later maturing crops such as tomatoes, corn, squash, eggplant and peppers. Some of the vendors might even share some of their favorite recipes to help you prepare a great meal using what you’ve just purchased. Add offerings such as cheese and honey to all this, and it’s all just too good to pass up.

The last month has been an especially eventful one for us in the Tooele Valley. As I write this, another good rain is finishing up outside. This is the second day of much needed precipitation and is in stark contrast to the bone-dry days of the last few weeks. During that time, both the Stockton and Anaconda (near Pine Canyon) fires occurred. One fire was set intentionally, the other was a result of a lightning strike. The day the Anaconda fire started, I was in my front yard getting ready to set up a party tent for an event at our house with the help of my friends in our neighborhood. When the storm moved in, there were several lightning strikes and I thought it best for us all not to be standing in our front yard holding metal poles into the air, so we postponed the set up until the following night. Needless to say, I didn’t get much resistance on the reschedule. Right after the storm passed, I walked into our back yard and looked across the valle, scanning the mountains in the horizon hoping we had escaped strikes on hillsides with plenty of fuel. It was not to be. Although only a few minutes old, the genesis of the Anaconda fire was plainly visible. Even though it never got close to our place, it was really concerning and we found ourselves continuously watching it.

Over the following days, we all saw some pretty dramatic developments. When you stand to lose a lot, it tends to make you even more grateful for what you have, including support of your family, friendship of your neighbors, the goodwill of the community, and the skill and bravery of those that ran into harm’s way to fight the fire. The simple “Thank You Firefighters” sign in Pine Canyon says it most eloquently to all the members of various agencies that were a part of the firefighting effort. I suspect there was some very similar sentiments expressed in Stockton as well.

So, when the rain set in these last few days, it was a welcome, or even, needed contrast. As gardeners, we highly prize rain water. It’s not our imagination that trees, grass and crops all seem to green up right after a rain. Rain water typically has significantly more nitrogen content than ground water — especially here with our calcium-rich soils.

While the atmosphere is about 75 percent nitrogen, very little of that makes it directly to people, animals or plants. This nitrogen is very stable and is not readily accessible to plants. Legumes can access and store nitrogen, but they do so only through the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root structures. For the vast majority of the rest of the plant kingdom, this substance must come from other nitrogen rich sources that are in a form that the plant can access. This includes ammoniums and nitrates.

Rainwater is beneficial for many obvious reasons, including temperature modification, moisture needs for plant tissues, cleansing of the air, but also for the transfer of nitrogen from the air to the soil. There is a lot of nitrogen mixed into the atmosphere due to combustion engines, application of fertilizers on croplands, forest fires, livestock manure and urine, sewage plants, and industrial activities such as boilers and power plants. When it rains, the types of nitrogen caused by these activities readily move into the rain and are deposited on the earth’s surface. That’s not all. Remember the atmosphere itself is about three-quarters nitrogen? To access this highly beneficial nitrogen takes much more than the rain falling through the air. It takes energy, and lots of it. This is where our friend and foe, lightning, comes in.

The same lightning that starts fires, causes property damage, or even hurts or kills people also is extremely beneficial. A lightning stroke will cause some of the nitrogen to combine with oxygen in the air. This is called “nitrogen fixing.” When this happens, the rain will transfer these compounds to the soil and fertilize it.

Another enjoyable thing about a good rain is the scent. Sorry to “burst your bubble,” but rainwater has no scent on its own. Dry air has limited ability to hold scents and transfer them. Humid air not only is a better scent-transfer medium, it also tends to activate soil bacteria, and helps oils in plants and flowers to dissipate. It’s much like adding water to dry mulch and enjoying the resulting earthy “forest floor” smell. The water doesn’t directly have any scent, but the compost needs moisture to release its perfume.

For those of you that are interested in collecting rainwater, there are a few things you should know. There are Utah state laws governing this, as rainwater is seen as a shared natural resource to all citizens of the state and the major source of charging our groundwater aquifers. Even so, you can collect rainwater in limited amounts in covered containers (to protect purity and eliminate breeding of insects). To collect water from the sky in our state, you must register with the State (there’s no charge for this). You can collect no more than 2,500 gallons at any time. There is one registration exemption allowed by the State of Utah, and it’s very specific. Your rainwater system must be comprised of no more than two covered storage containers, neither of which can be more than 100 gallons. For more information, do a web search for “Utah Division of Water Rights” and then look for “rainwater.”

The grass outside is calling us. With all that help from the rainfall, it’s time to mow again, even though Maggie just mowed it a few days ago. As green as it is, and with the cool air, I think she won’t mind doing it this time.

 

Jay Cooper can be contacted at jay@dirtfarmerjay.com, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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