Flooding Emergencies and Your Garden

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 - 12:02pm

Flooding in farm country after Hurricane Harvey. 

Two Octobers ago my home state of SC was the recipient of rainfall maybe half as bad as that from Hurricane Harvey. Here are some lessons learned from that storm that may apply to situations like future hurricanes. 

1. Get out there before the forecast storm and pick whatever is ready to harvest. Half a crop is better than none. Can or dehydrate the excess, or share with neighbors. 

2. Fields were flooded, entire season's crops lost. Plants can drown, just like humans: they need air, too, and prolonged flooding can kill crops by denying plants air at the roots. There are several things to keep in mind here. One is the loss of income from selling these ruined crops if they were meant for market, sure, but if you're dealing with a kitchen garden and relying on it the loss can be devastating. There are only three things you can do to prepare: set aside extra seed, set aside extra food for emergencies, and try to have extra resources on hand in case of a financial loss.  I always have enough seed for the next two years: it's 80 percent viable in year two. And a well-thought-out pantry not allows you to feel secure that you have  the resources to feed yourself and your loved ones, it provides a bit of a financial cushion. 

3. Salt or brackish flooding can make cropland unusable. Brackish water — which is more saline than fresh water, but less saline than seawater — deposits salt and other chemicals that remain in the soil for years; it can take six years for the land to becomes productive again. We had that problem near Charleston SC after storm surge in 1893. 

“Water radically changes the chemistry of soil.” said Philippe Hensel, a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Geodetic Survey. “Farmers really suffer when they get a storm surge over the land because the salt tends to stay.”

The best way to deal with this is to choose land nowhere near salt or brackish water, but many countries have used such locations to farm fish so it's not an impossible situation.

4. Not all flooding is bad. Note that inland farmers actually prefer what they call "bottom land" near small rivers that gets routinely flooded when a river goes over its banks, as that adds nutrients to the soil. But  in the case of larger rivers--such as the Congaree River just south of Columbia, SC, there is a series of dykes and berms to keep occasional flood water from overwhelming the bottom land. Here's an aerial view of some of the Congaree River bottomland, about 8 miles south of Columbia SC.

This area was flooded badly during our record rainfall, but is wildly productive today. 

In conclusion, flooding and your garden or small farm is another situation where preparation is everything. Proper thought to erosion control  is vital, and your usual preparations need to be extended to your garden and crops if you want to thrive after a flooding emergency. 

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