Archives for posts with tag: cold snaps

So, the melting has begun.  It is going slower than I expected, mainly because it remains very cold.  Even on a day as warm as today—with a high in the 50s expected—the snow only melts at the fringes of the still-covered areas, where solar radiation heats the pavement, or roof shingles, or exposed rocks, and the heat absorbed slowly conducts its way under the snow (snowpack melts mainly from its underside).  The few warms days we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy have been bracketed by nights with temperatures in the 10s and 20s.

As the drifts recede and the heaps shrink, the world is expanding again.  A month ago at the height (literally) of the season, we were hemmed in by a thick blanket of snow and the towering moraines left by snowplows and shovels.  Our narrow dirt road, constricted at the best of times, became truly one lane; passing a car in the other direction was tricky.  Simply walking around the house was impossible.  It was not necessarily an uncomfortable constraint—the minimized outdoor world was cozy in the way that a small room can be, or as cozy as snow can be, anyway—but it was very limiting.

Now the road is back to its normal width.  The stone walls that border it are again visible, as are the rocks that have fallen from them here or there.  Mileposts, “for sale” signs, political posters—most things shorter than four feet in height—have emerged from hiding even if they are somewhat the worse for wear, having been shoved around by unknowing snowplow drivers.  Indistinct white lumps in the lawn or on the patio have morphed back into landscaping boulders, chaise longues, and charcoal grills.  In the distance, the hills have lost their understory of white and the bare trees, once standing out in sharp contrast to the snow, have faded into a uniform brown background (we have few evergreen trees around here).

In short, the accessible environment is returning to its normal state.  Time to embrace the great outdoors again!

Advertisements

Faith is one thing (see February 19, 2014) but important as it is, it is not always enough.

We sowed seeds for basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, spearmint and sage at the end of January (see January 28, 2014) and within a week, some of the basil and rosemary seeds germinated (that’s the faith part).  They are slowly making progress and soon will be ready for potting up.

However, as of today—more than a month after sowing—none of the other seeds have germinated (that’s the not enough part).  It is possible, of course, that this winter’s extreme cold has slowed the growth cycle or that the other herbs are simply taking their sweet time making it out into the cool air (or maybe it is both; I know how I feel about getting out of bed in the morning this time of year).

We’ll keep the faith but we will also plant another batch of seeds.  It is my hope that by the time warmer weather arrives, we will have seedlings of all six herb varieties.  To increase our chances of that, we will buy new seeds.

This gave us a good opportunity to return to Adams Fairacre Farms to browse the extensive collection of seeds on display in their garden center.  Each company represented there offers a wide selection of vegetable and flower seeds and all of them have a small collection of kitchen herbs.

Walking through the six-foot-high racks of seed packets was like strolling through an art museum.  Seed companies seem to put a lot of emphasis on the design of their packaging and many of them opt for finely-detailed drawings of the mature plants, reminiscent of vintage botanical prints (and for all I know, some of them are vintage botanical prints).

Uncharacteristically, I did not do any prior research into which seed company might be better or worse than another and so we had no rational criteria with which to judge the different brands.  Instead, we picked one herb each from four different producers.  By almost random assignment, we ended up with French thyme from Renee’s Gardens, Greek oregano from Seed Savers Exchange, spearmint from Livingston Seed Co. and broadleaf sage from Botanical Interests.

Back home with the original seed tray, we sowed seeds into the same compartments as in January.  Assuming a similar number of days to germination—usually 14 to 21; only one or two packets provide this information—we should have seedlings by the end of the month.  Of course, strictly speaking we will not know whether they germinated from the seeds planted today or those sowed a month ago (even though the latter would seem unlikely).

While we were at it (seed sowing, that is), we planted another row of romaine and red leaf lettuce seeds.  And that’s when our continued faith was rewarded.  Next to the seedlings that sprouted about two weeks ago were a few new seedlings, only just peeking through the soil surface.

Speaking of lettuce (see February 7, 2014), a quick consult of the seed sowing calendar reveals that now is the time to sow lettuce seeds for non-transplanted growing.  (The nice thing about the seed sowing calendar I developed last year is that it is relative to the assumed average date of last frost, which is essentially unchanging; see March 23, 2013.  Therefore, last year’s calendar will be just as accurate this year.)  By “non-transplanted”, I mean that we will start the seedlings indoors and then pot them up to larger containers that can be moved outdoors when the warmer weather catches up to us.

At a certain level, it seems unbelievable that we would be even thinking about planting something as delicate as lettuce at this time of year.  Especially this year:  Temperatures have been in the single digits and snowstorms are weekly events.  There is no feeling (I don’t feel it, anyway) that the wintery weather will be changing anytime soon.  And yet, we are approaching mid-February and in two weeks it will be March.  By my reckoning (see June 25, 2013), that’s the beginning of spring!  And what says spring more than fresh lettuce?

To get the lettuce plants started, I followed the same process as I did for the herbs (see January 28, 2014).  I mixed up a batch of seed starting mix (peat moss, vermiculite and perlite in a 2:1:1 ratio with a teaspoon of lime), moistened it with water and filled half of a compartmentalized seed tray.  I then planted six of the compartments with seeds for romaine lettuce and six with red leaf.  In a couple of weeks, I will plant another six of each variety followed by a final six of each two weeks after that (a half-tray has 36 compartments.

Assuming the lettuce seeds are still viable (and they should be; the seed packet indicates an average life of two years and they have been stored properly), they will sprout in seven to 12 days.  They’ll need a couple of weeks to get large enough to transplant and then four to six weeks to reach full size.  If the lettuce plants last that long (we may start eating them earlier), it will be some time in the middle of April.  Therefore, it is unlikely that the first batch will spend any time outdoors.  But the second and third sowings probably will.

I moved the half-tray of lettuce seeds onto the seed starting apparatus where it joined the herbs, already in progress.  They haven’t changed at all—their status is holding at four basil seedlings and two presumed rosemary seedlings—but I’m not worried yet (well, not too worried).  Herbs are notoriously slow to germinate (which is why we started them in January).

Up next, per the seed sowing calendar:  Bell peppers and eggplant in the first week of March.

The weather outside is frightful—lots of snow and very cold—but the heating pad (on the seed starting apparatus) is so delightful.  And since there’s no place to go, let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.

I’m referring, of course, to the herb seeds, the first of which sprouted today.  No matter how often I see a brilliantly green seedling pushing its tiny cotyledons up through the soil with a stem no thicker than a piano wire, I am still exhilarated by the sight.  It makes me want to sing.

The first herb seedlings to appear are a few of the basil—no surprise there—and a single rosemary.  The latter is a surprise considering that according to the seed packet, rosemary can take as long as 28 days to germinate (it has only been seven).

It is possible that the seedling growing in the rosemary row is, in fact, an escapee from another row.  Most of the herb seeds are miniscule (a poppy seed would be huge in comparison) and one or two oregano or spearmint seeds, for example, could have gone astray while I was sowing them.  I’ll know when the first set of true leaves unfurl.

When I finally kiss Rachel good night (how I’ll hate going out to shovel snow tomorrow), while she really holds me tight, all the night long the seedlings will be warm.  Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

I’m sorry to have to say it but we’ve entered the grumpy season.

It happens every year, sometime in mid to late winter.  It is almost always associated with prolonged periods of very cold temperatures or a string of heavy snow storms.  Or, in a bad weather year such as this one, both.

The first two or three snowfalls of the winter were beautiful, including a magical dusting that gave us a white Christmas (see December 25, 2013).  But the storms started early (in mid-November or December, depending on the source) and new ones have been arriving frequently.  The Weather Channel (which started naming storms in 2012, much to the chagrin of the National Weather Service and other weather forecasters) is already up to Leon (the names progress alphabetically, just like hurricanes).

Making matters worse, the forecasters have been simultaneously sensationalizing the winter storms (today’s “Leon Leaves Atlanta DEVASTATED!” is typical of TWC headlines) and underestimating their impacts.  As an exasperated friend recently lamented, “Why don’t the weather folks just come right out and say that now ‘snow showers’ means 3 inches?”  Most of us have already seen—and shoveled—as much snow as we care to, and it is only the end of January.

Meanwhile, this month has already established itself as one of the coldest in recent memory if not historical record.  In my experience (24 years in New York), a cold winter means highs in the 30s and upper 20s and lows in the lower 20s.  This year, we have considered ourselves lucky to have a high anywhere in the 20s.  The lows have been in the single digits (including one below zero).  Very rare and very cold.

So, we’re grumpy.  Especially in the morning, before the sun rises, when the temperature is at its lowest, and there is snow waiting to be shoveled.

Luckily, even if the grumpy season is prolonged, it eventually comes to an end.  It is most usually superseded by the mud season in early spring (the severity of March’s weather being a determining factor) and is occasionally interrupted by a gloriously, brilliantly sunny day such as this one.

Another day, another polar vortex.  It seems that the atmosphere has reached down from the northernmost region of the earth and trailed a frigid finger of arctic air across the exposed back of the northeast.

To say that it has given us the chills would be a gross understatement; the temperature was two degrees below zero this morning.  This winter is on track to become the coldest one of my life.

If I look at the average temperature over the last two weeks—78 degrees (high) and 57 degrees (low) since May 28—and the average rainfall during that period—1.30 inches per week—they appear to be almost ideal conditions for growing vegetables.

But if I look at the actual distribution of temperature and precipitation, the situation is less than favorable.  At the end of May and beginning of June, there were three days with temperatures at or near 90 degrees which were preceded and followed by days with highs around 70 and lows below 50.

Similarly, almost half of the total rainfall over that two-week period (1.03 inches) fell on one day; a large part of the remainder (0.44 inches) occurred the day before (as part of the same storm system).  That’s almost 1 1/2 inches of rain in a 36 hour period.

(These numbers are based on reports from the Weather Channel website; our conditions could be very different.  One of these days, I might get a high/low thermometer and rain gauge and place them in the garden.)

The extremes of temperature (at either end of the spectrum) can easily kill a plant, especially a young, recently-transplanted one.  And rainfalls of greater than half an inch (over 24 hours) are a waste of water, most of which runs off.  Heavy rains can also damage plants (due to impact) and often cause flooding or erosion.

I’m not complaining—there would be no point—but it leads me to imagine the garden of the average family from The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  Most likely tended by the fractional (0.58) child, the garden would probably be relatively small (being of average size) but I expect that the growing conditions would be good (even if, well, average).  On the other hand, the quality of the average family’s garden would be less than exceptional (by definition) so it would be something of a trade-off.

Always striving for the perfect tomato or stellar Sugar Snap pea, I’ll take my chances with our sometimes less-than-ideal conditions.

When the weather flips suddenly from cold and rainy (we had to turn on the heat last Friday!) to hot and humid (more like what we expect in August), it makes watering difficult.

On the one hand, plants like tomatoes enjoy the warmth but they do not like to be overwatered.  At the other end of the spectrum, lettuces prefer moist conditions but will wither in the heat.

It reminds me that I have to pay close attention.  Automatic watering will probably not be sufficient and manual irrigation—the good old watering can—might be needed.

Yesterday evening, we arrived in Hawaii for the start of a weeklong vacation.  I’m not expecting any sympathy but it’s a long trip, especially coming from the east coast.  The distance is almost as far as Australia is from the west coast and takes most of a day to cover.  We left our house a little after 4:00 am and, after changing planes twice (an unfortunate downside to flying from our nearest airport) and driving for an hour, arrived in Kapalua shortly after 6:00 pm (11:00 pm at home).

After briefly catching up with the friends we’re vacationing with (and who are generously sharing their timeshare), we went to bed around 8:00 pm.  Complete exhaustion has helped us adjust to local time (five hours earlier than at home) but the loss of a normal day is a surreal experience.

Still, I’m not complaining.  Hawaii is a beautiful place and the weather has always been nothing less than ideal in my experience.  It’s at about the same latitude as the Caribbean but it always seems balmier and, somehow, more welcoming.  Being out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (as opposed to being nestled between North and South America as the Caribbean is) makes it perennially breezy and warm (and not oppressively hot and humid).  Of course, I’ve never been here in the summer.

In fact, I made my first trip to Hawaii in the winter of 1989 (Rachel spent the summer of 1983 in Lahaina but that’s her story to tell).  Rachel and I had survived our first year in Oberlin, Ohio and had treated ourselves to an island holiday (we were there for Christmas and New Year’s).  Ohio was in the middle of a cold snap and when we took off from Cleveland Hopkins airport, the frigid air was 14 degrees below zero.  When we arrived at the Kahului Airport in central Maui twelve hours later, the ambient temperature was a sultry 86 degrees.  A diurnal range, for us, of 100 degrees!

On the shuttle ride to our hotel (in Kaanapali to the northwest), the radio played, “Aloha Friday, no work till Monday”, which would have been a fitting welcome even if it had not been Friday (it was).