Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Rain Came Down and the Floods Came Up...

Well there I was, all ready to throw myself back into this, and then...

Though most of St Albans is on a hill and in little danger of flooding, the River Ver cuts a valley round it and, like many allotment sites across the country, our site is on the land no-one else wanted - a floodplain that actually sits below the level of the river; a basin that just filled up when the river burst its banks last Friday. Being on such low ground, we're no strangers to a little winter flooding affecting a few plots in the bottom of the basin (see my previous post on how to deal with flooding), but this is a different matter - this week nearly every single plot was flooded, and some of them several feet deep!

Immediately I thought of all the things I should have done. I should have harvested my six remaining swedes and kept them safe at home. I should have made certain that my watering cans and buckets were secure, and labelled them with my name and plot number. I should have properly disposed of those half-empty paint cans and the Round-Up I misguidedly bought a few years ago, instead of leaving them in a corner and forgetting about them! But I was thankful, at least, that it was still early in the season and I hadn't yet started sowing potatoes, parsnips and broad beans! It was pretty horrible not knowing how long the flood would last, or what state the place would be in when it went down again - how much would have died, whether all our things would still be there and unharmed, whether all the soil life would have drowned.

By enormous luck of the draw, our plot is among the highest onsite - an island, in fact, among lower plots, and after three days we could reach it again, though the plots on two sides were still completely submerged and those on the other two sides still had some huge puddles. We gathered up our watering cans and some loose pots, though our bucket of fish, blood and bone seems to have floated away, and brought home some belongings from our storage bench (a drenched box of tissues and first aid kit got thrown away pretty promptly) as well as those containers of paint and weedkiller, which thankfully still had their lids tightly on - and we pulled some stray bits of timber out of our pond. We'll return again tomorrow, water-level depending, and start to pick up the debris!

The swedes and leeks look unharmed, and though I had thought that we were supposed to discard any crops touched by floodwater, the FSA website's advice is more lenient than I expected: 

"For fresh fruit and vegetables that are grown either for sale or for your own consumption:
  • You should throw away any produce covered by flood water if it is ready to eat, and is grown above ground, such as lettuce or strawberries. It is fine to eat produce that is growing above the water and not contaminated with flood water e.g. fruit on trees.
  • It is OK to eat produce that has been cooked, even if it has been contaminated by flood water this is because cooking will kill any harmful germs that might be present.
  • You should wait at least six months after the area was flooded, before harvesting any new fruit or vegetables from that affected land. This is to make sure that any harmful germs that might be in the soil from the flood water will not survive and contaminate the produce. You do not need to wait before planting new crops if the fruit or vegetables will be cooked before being eaten."
So it looks like we'll still be able to eat our winter crops if we leave them a little longer, wash them thoroughly and cook them well. To be honest, it's unlikely our floodwater has anything too terrible in it, but you just can't tell.

I wish I'd brought more of our tools home now, as the rain continues to come down and I know the water could easily rise again. One of our forks was already starting to show a little rust. And of course I'd like to get a move on with digging a new potato bed and prepping the soil for spring, but as long as this weather continues and the Ver remains a raging torrent, I think that the threat of flooding will remain, and the soil is unlikely to dry out to a useful degree.

So while I wait, I'm contenting myself sowing seeds at home: peppers in the propagator, leeks and artichokes and celeriac on the windowsill, and parsnips in pots in the garden. (They say you can't transplant parsnips, but last time I tried it they did amazingly well and were huge! I'll make a second sowing in the soil when I can too though, just in case - and 'cos I like parsnips!)

Of course, the disappointment and inconvenience we're suffering here is nothing compared to the misery those with flooded homes are going through. Let's hope this stupid weather comes to an end soon, and let's hope for a more responsible approach to the environment and its potential hazards in future.

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