Record-setting rain killing crops, hopes on the farm

MILLIS, Mass. — This is the point in summer when workers at Tangerini’s Farm would normally be picking the first tomatoes. But this has not been a normal summer.

The tomato plants have fruit, but they are growing out of soil that’s been saturated for so long that some of the puddles have algae growing in them. The plants are also suffering from blight - a by-product of the rainy, cool weather that has dominated the region this month.

“It’s either laugh or cry at this point,” said Linda Chiarizio, who owns the farm with her husband, Steve. “This is just one of those times where you literally can’t do anything. You just sit there and watch it happen.”

But it’s not easy.

The record-setting rainfall has turned the farm’s watermelon beds into vast puddles, killing many of the plants. Some of those that haven’t died are producing subpar or even rotted fruit. Much of the pepper crop has chronically wet feet and won’t survive. And while corn planted earlier in the season is looking robust and nearly ready to pick, later waves are struggling.

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“It looks green right now,” Chiarizio said. “If it sits in the water for much longer, the roots just won’t develop and it won’t make it.”

Even fall crops won’t escape what happened in July.

“We’ve just planted our fall harvested carrots and beets, which are one of our storage crops,” Chiarizio said.

Those crops went in 10 days late, she said, because - wait for it - the field was too wet. And that will mean stunted growth of those root vegetables.

“We do have a pretty clay-based soil, so the water doesn’t really percolate down and drain as quickly as some other soils,” Chiarizio said. “Which in a drought year is awesome.”

Chiarizio probably never thought she’d be nostalgic for a drought year. But at least those years with too little rain gave the organic farm an element of control: the ability to irrigate from its on-site ponds.

De-irrigation, unfortunately, is not a possibility this summer.

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