The Smell of Rain

Spring is probably most people’s favorite season. It’s the time of rebirth and regrowth, a promise of yet another season. But it is also a time of work. Folks talk about the days of summer, but for me, the days are during winter. It is the time that I curl up by the fire with a book, do some painting, and generally take a long sigh and regroup.

This rest includes my muscles which, even though I regularly exercise, become lax. The first day of yard work in the spring leaves me sore from head to toe, using muscles that I have not used during the long winter months. So, when the first warm rays of spring hit, it is time to “get at it.” The soreness, the stiffness — it is a good feeling.

Bikers want to hit the road, runners hit the paths, and it seems that everyone is getting out into the warm rays to do something. But perhaps farmers and gardeners get bit by this spring fever bug the hardest. It’s the urge to get out and dig in the dirt. There is something about planting a dormant seed and seeing it sprout that’s the reassurance that — no matter the weather conditions and no matter what harvest will bring that year — there is the promise of another season.

Just as harvest changes everything, so does spring planting season. For a couple weeks every year, there is no such thing as normal. Everything and every minute is driven by one thing only … getting the crop in the ground. This is most profound for farmers, but even us gardeners and those that plant flowerbeds and containers feel the urge. After all, why else do we eagerly await the seed catalog arrivals in January and then pore over them for days at a time, knowing that our selections probably will never look as good as those pictured? But yet, we dream.

For the farmer, it is his paycheck. Each year’s crop dictates his lifestyle for the coming year, and most of this outcome is based on his planning for spring planting. He places his seed order the year before, trying to out-guess weather conditions when it comes to how much and what variety will do best for his kind of soil. He places his order for fertilizer and chemicals early to make sure he has them when he needs them. This is all he can do; the rest is up to God and Mother Nature.

Planting season here in the Midwest can be anywhere from mid-March until the middle of June. That’s a three-month spread with a host of different variables. Rain is the big one. The seeds need moisture to sprout, and the ground needs to have the right amount of moisture to be worked up properly but not so much that farmers can’t get in the fields to work.

We watch weather reports, but know that they are only guidelines. More importantly, we know the “feel of the air” and can sense when rain is imminent. Even preparing the ground calls for soil conditions to be just right. If the dirt is too wet when it is turned then it ends up in huge clumps; if it is too dry, it becomes powdery fine and you have dust. It cannot be worked too early before planting because it will lose what moisture there is in the soil and there will not be enough for seeds to sprout. If it is worked too late, it puts more pressure on by trying to get the ground worked and plant at the same time.

Planting season makes for long days indeed. A “normal” day during planting is from sunup until way after sunset; after all, that’s why they put lights on tractors. It’s a tired-to-the-bone feeling, but a satisfied feeling that it has been a good day’s work.

It’s always a guess as to when to plant, too. Just because it is a nice day doesn’t mean it’s time to put seed in the ground. Yes, you need to plant when it is dry enough to get the equipment in the fields, but also you need to know more rain is coming to sprout the seeds. Getting the seed in the ground is only half the battle; the other half is getting them to sprout. That is why, as one farmer put it, we like to space out planting by doing some early and some a little later. That way all of the eggs are not in one basket. It makes sense.

This year for us, the corn and beans are in the ground. It was so dry that the equipment was in a cloud of dust most of the time. It was a good feeling to get the seeds in, but the elation was clouded by wondering if the rains that were predicted would actually come. The rain needed to come, but not as a downpour, for that would have drowned the seed.

Photo by Lois Hoffman

The rain came as predicted — a steady rain that would be enough to sprout the seed. Ahh, the sweet smell of those tiny droplets, the lifeblood that every farmer and gardener depends on. Now the rest of the summer, like every year, will be a guessing game; will we get enough rain when we need it? Not only the farmer and gardener but everyone depends on rain one way or another, for it is rain that nourishes the crops that feed us all. There really is nothing quite so important as the sweet smell of rain.

  • Published on May 11, 2017
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