Our region has certainly suffered under an overabundance of rainfall in the last few months.
As I traveled this past week to the National Association of County Agricultural Agents conference in South Dakota, I heard from many of my colleagues in the Eastern states who have been suffering with rain as well. It seems we are not alone in this shift of weather patterns.
Those who regularly read my column know that I have dedicated a few articles over the past month to the doom and gloom caused by the rain, namely disease issues. However, with this past week’s heavy rains, storms and flooding, some new problems have arisen.
Flooding is especially problematic in gardens where fruits and vegetables are grown. Due to the risk of contamination from pollutants in the water, produce from flooded gardens can present a potential food safety risk. These pollutants include sewage, uncomposted animal manures and industrial/chemical waste. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture issued a warning this past week about consuming produce from flooded gardens and farms.
The steps a grower must take following a flood depends on the crop being grown and the time to its maturity. Generally speaking, anything that is to be harvested within 90 days of being touched by floodwaters should be removed and discarded from the garden. This especially includes leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, and other things that can only be consumed raw.
The best way to ensure safety is to remove any fruits present on plants, such as tomatoes, berries, zucchini or cucumbers during the flood. New fruits and vegetables that form after flooding should be considered safe to eat, unless they make contact with the soil within 90 days of the flood.
Root vegetables that are cooked before consuming, such as potatoes, carrots and beets, can be harvested a month after flooding and considered to be safe. Just be sure to thoroughly scrub and wash them before cooking.
Any root vegetable that is typically consumed raw, such as radishes or green onions, should be discarded after a flood. Onions may be left to mature into dry bulb onions for harvest later in the year.
Anything that cannot be safely eaten should also not be canned. While cooking and canning may kill bacterial contamination on these items, it cannot remove particulate and chemical contamination.
Flooding can also cause problems for trees and shrubs as well. Several species of trees and shrubs are intolerant of floodwaters. Flooding saturates the soil with water, which in turns pushes out the air trapped in the soil. The roots need oxygen, so basically these trees suffocate (much like the leading cause of houseplant mortality is overwatering).
Oaks, pines and yews are good examples of trees intolerant of flooding, especially if their root zone is flooded for a period of time. Short flooding periods usually don’t pose a threat.
Some species of trees have adapted to living in flood areas, so if you have an area on your property that always floods (or stays wet), you may want to consider them for your property. These include willows, river birch and cypress.
Flooding can also be a great way for diseases to spread around. The wetness is the perfect condition for bacteria and fungi to thrive and move around.
Storm damage to trees
Of course, heavy storms can also damage trees. Broken limbs are par for the course during wild summer storms, as are fallen trees. It is a good idea to check the trees in your landscape after strong storms for broken branches, as they may not always come loose from the tree and could pose a risk later if they fall unexpectedly.
If a branch is broken, you should have the damaged area cut back to an appropriate pruning point. You don’t want long sections of dead or dying branches left in the tree, as they can be a point for insect and disease entry into the tree.
Keeping trees healthy and avoiding damage is key to reducing limb loss and tree falls. Damage caused by improper pruning, lawn mowers and weed trimmers or other trauma can be an entry point for the fungus that eats the center of the tree, called heart rot. This does not affect the health of the tree, as it only decomposes the tissue in the middle of the tree that is dead, but it does weaken the tree and makes it easier for the tree to fall.