When I was growing up, a neighbor had one of those Mule Barometers to monitor the weather. It said something like: “If tail is dry — Fair; If tail is wet — Rain; If tail is swinging — Windy; If tail is wet and swinging — Stormy; If tail is frozen — Cold.”
In what has become an annual tradition in our garden, my six-year-old son has unknowingly constructed something similar. On days when there is even a hint or suggestion of spring in the air, his greatest desire is to spend endless hours digging a mud hole in the garden. When he completes what he estimates to be a significant milestone in the excavation process, he immediately recruits me to begin hauling buckets of water from the barn to dump into his newly expanded mud hole. With great delight for the both of us — and any area buddies my son recruited to stop by and assist with the endeavor — we watch the resulting water fall flow through the shallower areas of the hole into the deeper trenches of his garden creation.
As one would imagine, the mud hole construction goes much more quickly in times of pleasant spring weather and slows in inclement conditions. As a result of the very mild 2015-2016 winter, the mud hole got a very early start this year with the initial ground breaking taking place on one of the several sunny late February days. The very warm March weather led to rapid early expansion of the project and countless hours spent with shovel in hand and muddy boots on feet.
The first snow delay (note that this was only a delay and that the snow did not halt the progress) took place in April, though, as the balmy spring conditions deteriorated into a mire of ice and mud. Conditions did get so bad starting Saturday, April 9 that there was parental intervention requiring a temporary stay on the project — much to the dismay of my son and his growing crew of interested neighborhood boys. The shovels were shelved and the toy bulldozers were stopped in their tracks due to the exceptionally poor weather.
After being gone for a couple of days in my work travels, I would never have to ask how the weather had been in my absence. All I had to do was go out and assess the relative clues provided by the ever-evolving mud hole.
Mud hole bigger — Fair; Mud hole the same size — Stormy; Mud hole smaller — Windy; Mud hole frozen — Cold; Mud hole full of water — Wet.
Based on the reports from the 2016 Reese garden mud hole barometer, spring started with very mild temperatures (making Ohio’s apple and other fruit producers nervous while giving early spring fever to corn and soybean growers) but then took a very unpleasant turn for the worse (making the fruit growers even more nervous and frustrating early corn and soybean planting hopes). There was some early concern about the potential for excessively dry conditions developing but, based on the mid-April mud hole barometer water levels, it appears that there will be adequate moisture for early crops to get their start.
Soon we will face the challenging decision of tilling the garden and deciding whether or not we fill in the mud hole to make way for summer tomatoes, green beans and carrots. If we leave it, we will lose valuable real estate for crop production, but we will be preserving a powerful incentive for our son and his friends to spend spring and summer days with their hands in the dirt, their backs beneath the sunshine and blue skies amid a growing crop around them.
Which land use is more valuable? We can always pick up some carrots at the store; the value of boys (and girls) with dirty hands can’t be bought. Plus, it looks like I won’t need to get a new rain gauge for the garden this year.