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The only nice-weather day was yesterday

ìThis is Berk. It snows nine months of the year, and hails the other three.îThe Dreamworks Animation hit ìHow to Train Your Dragonî ends with that line, which now seems more appropriate than ever for the Pikes Peak region. For people who live in the suburban areas of El Paso County and commute to office jobs, the extremes of our weather only annoy when the county roads department can’t keep up with snow, or the hail is finally big enough to dent cars or roofs. For those who make their livelihoods from the land, even small changes in weather can mean huge changes in how they run their business ñ- or if their business survives at all.The hail storm of June 13 dented plenty of cars and roofs from Ellicott through Peyton and Calhan. The National Mill Dog Rescue in Peyton was severely damaged. Many of the organization’s dogs had to be relocated to volunteers’ homes while the partially collapsed roof was repaired. But the large, unusually dense hail stones also crushed gardens and market farms along its path.Ahavah Farm on Log Road in Peyton was nearly wiped out by the tennis-ball-sized dense hail. ìDecimation does not describe what happened to our crops today,î said Yosef Camire, farm owner. ìNever mind the damage to our home, cars and greenhouses.îBackyard gardeners in Calhan and Falcon may not have lost revenue for their businesses from the storms, but the damage to prized plants were just as annoying. ìYou know how hard it is to get a rhubarb pie with just rhubarb?î asked Torin Klunder of Calhan. ìI was this close to harvesting the rhubarb we planted last year, and it got completely shredded.îThe hailstones were especially damaging to the tender young plants that the for-profit and hobby gardeners had just managed to coax up out of the ground, after a cold, late spring. Late spring frosts and snows aren’t unusual in Falcon, and most experienced gardeners know to use frost protection like row covers. But the consistently cooler than normal temperatures kept the soil too cold to germinate seeds or transplant warm weather crops until the end of May.Protecting plants from hail is possible, to a point. If the gardener is home and sees or hears the storm coming, they may run out to drag container plants under cover or throw blankets over plants. However, you may not be home at the time. If hail is large enough to hurt your car, it’s large enough to hurt you. But most importantly, gardeners racing out to protect their plants are violating the ìwhen thunder roars, go indoorsî rule of lightning safety. And no garden-fresh pie or salsa is worth your life; not even an all-rhubarb pie.Low tunnels made of lightweight fabrics like Agribon or Reemay stretched over PVC hoops can provide double-duty protection against threats to plants. Burying the edges of the fabric into the garden soil can create a barrier against some insect pests like the Colorado Potato Beetle or flea beetle. The thin fabric can also protect against smaller hail. Even if the fabric is ripped by the larger stones, they may slow them down or deflect them enough to reduce damage. Agribon is available in long rolls online, or cut to size at Don’s Garden Shop near Peterson Air Force Base.For more aggressive — and expensive — protection, some gardeners purchase hail netting, which also gives plants a little shade from the intense Colorado sun. These nets are usually strung from poles over gardens or high-value crop fields. These nets also protect berries and fruits from bird damage but still allow pollinating insects to get to the blooms, unlike Agribon.For gardeners who have totally had enough and are about to start screaming into the storm like Shakespeare’s ìKing Lear,î next time a thundercloud comes near their rhubarb, half-inch hardware cloth is the last defense. Hardware cloth is a dense welded-wire mesh frequently used for small-animal cages. A well-built hoop or cage over your garden plot made out of hardware cloth will keep out just about any hail Colorado can throw at your plants, as well as birds, bunnies and even burrowing animals; if it is also buried into the soil a few inches. However, it’s not the most attractive garden feature and is about 10 times more expensive per row foot than Agribon or hail net.Perennial plants like trees and shrubs usually recover well from hail damage because they have more energy stored in their root system to make it through the long winters. Annual plants like most flowers and vegetables will need some quick help from the gardener. Trim back the damaged leaves and stems so diseases and pests don’t attack the shredded parts. Wait about a week to see if the plant will regrow. If you see new growth, add a high-quality fertilizer and carefully monitor the plants’ water needs to avoid stressing it out with either too much or not enough water.If the severe storms’ dark clouds have a silver lining, it’s the community support the farms and organizations in their path have received to help rebuild, repair and replant. At NMDR, volunteers and supporters rushed to the kennels to move dogs to safer and drier locations ñ- even to their own homes. More than 50 volunteers and customers showed up at Ahavah Farm within the three days following the storm to help the family clean out ruined plants and start re-planting, Camire said. He hopes long-season crops from their ruined greenhouses can be recovered for late season farmersí markets and their 50-member Community Supported Agriculture share boxes.Hiccup, the main character in ìHow to Train Your Dragon,î who says the line at the top of the column about his home town, Berk, goes on to say, ìAny food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people who grow here are even more so.î The cold spring and summer hail may indeed delay the salsas and pies a bit here in El Paso County. But the people here are showing they are not tasteless at all, by putting the ìcommunityî in ìCommunity Supported Agriculture.î

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