Illinoying

Illinoying

Illinois has a very different climate from New England. Being close to the Atlantic, the air was typically damp, and the temperatures drifted slowly from winter to summer. Meanwhile, in Illinois is thermal changes were akin to a 3 year-old with a light switch. You can go from winter through to summer and right on back to the Arctic in a few days. In the winter, everything freezes solid: the ground, the plants, and your brake fluid. When it snows, the air is so dry that it will frequently sublime away. Spring is short and it rushes straight into summer (and then back to winter for a few days). Whole apple crops are lost because of the erratic nature of the weather. This was a whole new ball game.

Before we had even bought a house, I was farming a small plot of land at work. Akin to an allotment, the space was divided and a group of us set to work. Peppers, squash and tomatoes were my prime goals as they needed less attention. Weed fabric kept down the maintenance, and a fence kept out the rabbits. Rabbits were easy to handle, they didn’t climb trees. The first few weeks were perfect. Lots of sun, a lot of nice warmth, and periodic showers. It was a surprise that not all of the plots were taken. The tomatoes took well and the squash started to run.

Work

My defeat came at the hands of the weather, or more precisely the interaction of the weather with the topology of pancakeland. Illinois I had discovered was incredibly flat. Thanks to glaciers this state is the second flattest in the Union (Florida is #1). You can drive all day and never see so much as a hillock. It is no surprise that the Dutch settled in the area in the 1900s. However, this leads to one minor problem, drainage.

River Flood

As the old saying goes, water will always flow downhill. Well what happens if there is no downhill? Along comes a storm and drops 3” of rain onto your vegetable patch, and where does it go? Combined with a very heavy clay soil, and your vegetable patch will quickly turn into another of the great lakes. The water table rises, and now instead of being a few feet below the ground, it is above it. The whole world becomes sodden. A few days later you are looking for some short season crops to compensate.

Except that is for the squash plants. They were planted in small hills, and soaked up the water. Fruit grew and the plants flourished. While my coworkers loved taken home pounds of squash each day, for me there was an air of disappointment. In 20 years, my life had come full circle. All I could grow was squash.

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