How Beautiful is the Rain!
By H.W Longfellow
How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
Packing up your vegetable boxes last Wednesday, we were accompanied by the most beautiful concert in the world: lots and lots of raindrops dancing joyfully on our tin roof to the point where we could hardly hear one another. So, we stopped talking and withdrew into ourselves, working silently amidst this glorious performance, smiling at each other under our masks.
The rain – especially the first rain – brings with it so much happiness and heartfelt emotions. Everyone I met over last week’s rainy days was walking in a cloud of joy that has been hidden for awhile amongst the clouds of viruses. Our parched hearts were sprinkled with sheer joy. How beautiful indeed is the rain!
We have been yearning for rain since Sukkot, and asked you to join us in our pleas and rain dances. But I’ll tell you a secret: we’re now racing against time to complete all the pre-rain tasks: cleaning beds which are no longer hosting, spreading compost, weeding the autumn plants that are in need of intense coiffing, and more. Kind of like your guests informing you that they are running late – you now have more time to complete the unfinished tasks… Thus, when the wet guest of honor is just a little tardy, it’s not so bad….
Which is why the Wednesday rain was so timely. A nice 70 mm drip pattered all through the evening and nighttime, quenching our dry soil’s thirst. What’s so great about the first rain is that all of it is absorbed in the thirsty and dry earth, infiltrating and then disappearing. The mud dries up easily and quickly, and this Monday we were already able to loosen and aerate the earth in its optimal state – damp, ventilated soil, easy to work with and prepare for the many autumn plantings awaiting.
Even with the fast pace of life, and concrete stretching across vast expanses, we still maintain a basic yearning for rain and the lively wet-and-wildness it brings. When I tried to find answers to the question “what is that scent after rain?” I found scientific explanations (to follow) alongside a palpable gush of yearning for that smell, the memories it evokes of childhood and home, to a time and place where we started to grow, to send out roots and reach a specific starting point. Perhaps this is why it stirs in one’s heart a feeling of renewal and a fresh, new start.
The scent of rain is extracted and produced wisely (for us and other living creatures, as you will soon see) by nature’s main actors: the plants, microbes, and rocks. In nature, this scent has two main components: geosmin and petrichor.
Geosmin (literally “earth smell”) is an organic compound produced by various microorganisms: in the water these are seaweed, while in the earth they are microbes. These microbes die when the earth is dry and hot, sending out geosmin-loaded spores that can survive in a dormant state, even over many years of very dry, hot seasons. Once they meet rain and moisture, the geosmin smell is augmented, the spores disperse into the air through the raindrops, and emit the “rain-like” scent—basically, the smell of newly-wet soil. Our love for this scent is important to the microbes, who need us to come close and toy with their spores in order to disseminate them. And it is true: the human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin and is able to detect it at very low concentrations.
One of the most sensitive animals to geosmin is the camel. That comes as no great surprise, since this animal has a profoundly acute need to pick up even the slightest trace of the scent of water and moisture. Camels can detect water from a very great distance (up to 80 km!) due to their heightened sensitivity to the scent of geosmin. In camel terms, it is a matter of life and death. Also, many dust mites, like earthworms and other excavators, are attracted to the scent of geosmin and assist the microbes in their mission to disperse.
These microbes, actinobacterias, and more specifically streptomyces, are a group of vital soil-dwelling organisms which produce antibiotic substances that naturally fight infections and fungus. Perhaps our attraction to this smell is not only due to nostalgia for a time in our life where we had a wet plot of soil nearby, but also a key example of the pull to substances that are supposed to protect us – specifically throughout the cold, rainy winter.
But this smell is not always desirable. Water purification devices attempt to remove it from the groundwater which ends up in your faucets. Winemakers try to fight it to prevent a bouquet of mildew in their vino, and even pharmaceutical companies demur from marketing earthy-smelling medicines. A revolutionary study pertaining to the composition and formation of geosmin aspires to solve that problem. In our boxes, you will savor the geosmin in our beets, the secret ingredient in their earthy taste.
The second component in this scent is Petrichor (from Greek petra “stone” + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology). This impressive term, the modern meaning of which is “the nice fragrance accompanying rain after a dry spell,” was coined by two Australian researchers, Bear and Thomas, in an article they published in the 1960’s. Various plants extract oils into the atmosphere, which accumulate upon clay-like soil, rocks and stones. During dry seasons, a larger amount accumulates on the soil and rocks, and once the air grows moister and the rain falls, they are freed into the air, wafting their scent about.
Bear and Thomas wanted the petrichor to explain the special phenomenon of rapid growth and blooming which occurs in desert areas after short rains. They tried to show that there is something in this oil compound which expedites growth. To their surprise, they discovered the opposite: the petrichor slows down and even prevents sprouting and growth. They believe this to be a means for the seeds to protect themselves from short rains followed by the return of the dry spells. Sprouting which is not followed by additional watering brings about the demise of the sprout, while in its seeded, non-sprouted state, it still carries the potential to wait for a real rain. A strong, serious rain will wash the oil off the seeds and annul the stalling of sprouting.
Over the past few decades, we have learned about the destructive aspect of rain, and I don’t necessarily mean disasters like tsunamis or floods. Rain, after all, meets everything that exists around it, and the moisture intensifies these scents, causing its own reactions. If the pervading air carries unpleasant smells, they will be intensified by the rain’s moistness. Gasoline smells, garbage, dust, sewage— all return with a vengeance in the rain. Pollution, as well, is collected in the tiny raindrops, turning into dangerous acids which provide disastrous watering that pollutes plants, lakes and animals. By adding more trees, specifically in noxious-smelling cities that are covered in concrete, and decreasing the contaminates that we release into the atmosphere, the scales will be tipped in favor of the petrichor fragrance that stirs within us a craving for the hearth and home. It’s worth it, don’t you think?
Over the rest of this week’s sunny and dry weather, we’ve taken advantage of our contented, saturated field to get to work on the never-ending autumn demands.
Wishing you all warmth of heart, quenching of thirst, and the lovely, simple happiness of rain,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror and the Chubeza team smiling behind masks
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Swiss chard/kale, daikon/fennel/kohlrabi, turnips/beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers/eggplant/lubia Thai yard-long beans, slice of pumpkin/ potatoes, coriander/parsley/dill, sweet potatoes, zucchini/carrots. Small boxes only: celery.
Large box, in addition: Winter spinach/New Zealand spinach, cabbage/cauliflower, arugula/mizuna/bok choy/totsoi, lettuce/basil
FRUIT BOXES: Avocados, bananas, apples, oranges, clementinas
Wednesday: Winter spinach/New Zealand spinach/kale, daikon/fennel/kohlrabi, turnips/beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers/eggplant, slice of pumpkin/lubia Thai yard-long beans, coriander/parsley/dill, sweet potatoes, zucchini/carrots, cabbage/cauliflower/Jerusalem artichoke.
Large box, in addition: Swiss chard//bok choy/totsoi, celery/scallions, arugula/mizunaIlettuce.
FRUIT BOXES: Avocados, bananas, apples, oranges, clementinas.