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The first rain of the new year!

April 27, 2010

On April 13 we celebrated the Thai New Year 2553. Two weeks later, today, we got our first rain with a measurable amount of water: 1mm! When we scratched the soil we saw that the water had hardly penetrated the surface, because the underlying soil was dry and still hot. However, this rain shows the monsoon has begun, and the moisture in the air is perfect for orchids, ferns and amphibians that have struggled in the drought. It is wise to measure the amount of rain, as gardeners otherwise will think a brief shower may replace 2-3 hours of irrigation, which is wrong. At least 5 mm, preferably 10 mm, is needed to cancel irrigation. We had to irrigate as usual today, but we are happy that the rains have begun.

The previous rain was in January, which actually coincided with mango blossom. Unfortunately that rain (10 plus 5 mm) wiped out a great deal of this year’s mango harvest at Dokmai Garden. The north of Chiang Mai had a major rainstorm three days ago, with many trees lost. Today’s rain was quite normal in intensity and timing. Many people fear that global warming will result in a drought in Chiang Mai, but climatologists think the opposite, since the monsoon is a heat-driven weather system. During the last ice age 10 000 years ago, Chiang Mai had vast and dry pine heaths. Today’s pines are waiting at 800-1200 meters altitude for the next ice age. What makes people believe this dry season was exceptionally dry, is the fact that last year’s RAINY season was unusually dry. The water reservoirs did not fill up as usual, so this dry season we experience unusually low levels, and people blame the drought (which is normal) rather than the poor rainy season of 2009. That poor rainy season was not abnormal, it happens, as last year was an El Niño year, meaning that due to temperature differences in the Pacific Ocean, South America got lots of rains, and we did not. The year 2008 was an El Niña year, the opposite, with amazing amounts of rain fall here.

Being out in your garden when it is raining is essential to understand your green friends.These early storms usually show your garden’s weak points, that have to be dealt with before the major rains. Check if you have branches or bamboo hitting roofs or electrical wires, check that drainage systems are not clogged, and if the rain seems to follow paths that may cause erosion or road destruction you need to fill in those holes now. 

Eric Danell

Bufo melanosticta is a Dokmai Garden toad that enjoys the rains. It is a nocturnal amphibian which sleeps in flowering pots in our shower.

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