Archives for posts with tag: heavy rain

Still playing catch up, we thinned the beets and turnips today. Doing the turnips was easy: we had placed the seeds with one and a half to two inches in between them; to thin, we simply pulled out every other sprout. The remaining turnips, now spaced at three to four inches, should not need to be further thinned.

Thinning the beets required a bit more attention. Their seeds are clustered so even though we used the same initial spacing, each cluster produced multiple tightly-bunched sprouts. Rather than pull them out, which might damage the roots of those left to grow, we used clippers to cut off the extraneous stems and leaves. As it turned out, because the beet seeds did not germinate with the same success as the turnips and radishes, there was less thinning to do.

To wrap up in the garden, we harvested the first of the radishes. And we were just in time, too. Shortly after we went inside to sauté them with the beet and turnip greens, a rainstorm of nearly biblical proportions came crashing through.

These strong summer storms are very exciting and not a little alarming. They arrive with next to no warning—unlike hurricanes and tropical storms which are monitored closely as they track up the Atlantic seaboard—and can dump a huge volume of rain in a very short period. In fact, today’s storm brought a higher precipitation rate than either Hurricane Irene or Hurricane Sandy. Our road nearly washed out.

Luckily, however, the tempest had subsided after an hour or so (unlike the hurricanes which take a day or two before they run out of energy). No real damage had been done but the runoff washed around the raised beds and redistributed the cedar mulch. Still, it underscores the need for more risk analysis (see May 7, 2014).

With climate change clearly in progress, heavy rains such as the one this afternoon have been and will continue to be much more likely. The consequences remain moderate: flooding of the pool and garden area. So far, the impact to the house has been minimal although the long-term exposure to moisture—to the point of saturation—may eventually lead to rotting timbers and a leaky roof.

It is apparent that I need to assess the topography of the yard and devise surface drainage routes to relieve the low-lying areas where rainwater accumulates. The big unknown for us is what exactly to do to mitigate the flow and how much it will cost us.  Because although it is true that I can’t do anything about the weather (despite talking about it a lot), I can do something about its consequences.

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When I was growing up in the Central Valley of California, I often eschewed the agricultural aspects of life there. My hometown of Davis is relatively large (if not the largest) compared to other towns in Yolo County and, more significantly, is host to a campus of the University of California, for which both of my parents worked. Yes, UCD is an ag school—it was originally known as the Farm—but for us it represented the intellectual side of life and it was in this direction that I was aligned.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to better appreciate the valley’s agricultural heritage. And since starting a backyard vegetable garden three years ago, my understanding of and appreciation for farming and the industry as a whole has been steadily increasing. So, while visiting my family this weekend (we were long overdue; see October 19, 2012; October 21, 2012; and October 24, 2012 for tales of our last trip), I decided to embrace my inner farm boy and take in a couple of the agrarian attractions that the valley has to offer.

Our first stop this morning—with my brother along—was the Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland, the seat of Yolo County. Housed in two large warehouse buildings and connected by corridors at each end which create a central courtyard, the agricultural museum tells the story of farming in the valley through an expansive collection of farm equipment and associated lore.

The artifacts span more than a hundred years in age and include manual implements, horse- and mule-drawn plows and wagons as well as tractors and harvesters powered by steam or diesel engines. The steam-driven tractors are particularly impressive. One example has drive-wheels that are eight feet in diameter; its boiler is the size of a small shed and its chimney reaches almost to the ceiling. It must have been a wonder to behold when new.

The east building was chock-full of equipment, all impeccably restored and painted in bright colors. (The tractors would have been fun to climb on, had it been allowed.) The west building had previously housed a collection of antique trucks but its owners (who rented space from the History Center) recently moved it to another facility. Sadly (and inexplicably), I did not take any pictures.

Our second foray took us into the heart of the valley itself. The Yolo Bypass is a narrow but huge (hundreds of thousands of acres) strip of land running north-south between the cities of Davis and Sacramento. Parallel to the Sacramento River and surrounded by levees, the bypass acts as a detention pond for excess river flow that would otherwise flood the valley and its cities. After filling with water, the bypass slowly drains into the river downstream and thence into the delta.

Within the bypass is the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, almost 18,000 acres of protected wetlands which are home to a variety of aquatic and avian species. Wet is the operative word here because even during drought years (of which California is in its third straight), the bypass is periodically flooded, either to support the rice crops that are grown there or, in periodic fallow seasons, to support the wildlife.

In my memories of childhood, the bypass quickly filled and remained full—an inland sea, complete with waves and breakers—every winter. In more recent years (and, given the unreliability of my memory, probably most years), the water levels have been relatively low and the flooded areas distributed among the patchwork of rice fields that make up the bypass.

It rained all day yesterday (not great for visiting but a relief to everyone who lives here) and consequently, the ground was muddy and slippery. We could have parked the car and walked but, feeling lazy on a sunny Sunday morning, decided to drive the auto tour which winds its way along intermediate levees. It was dicey in spots and we could feel the car floating on a layer of muck. But had we chosen to walk, we would have sunk to our ankles, if not deeper.

It was calm and serene despite the fact that Interstate 80 crosses the north edge of the Wildlife Area on an elevated causeway. And lest we think that we were truly in the wilderness, the Sacramento skyline loomed to the east. Both the freeway and the city are good reminders of how California’s population is linked to the agriculture on which its success is largely based.

Wrapping up my assessment of last year’s plantings in preparation for this year’s (see February 6, 2014 for the previous installment), the eggplant and bell peppers are two other vegetables (three, if you count the different colors of pepper separately) which were delicious and did well in our garden but which could use more space.

I had read that bell peppers like to be close to each other—to “hold hands,” so to speak—and set them out accordingly.  I treated the eggplant, the peppers’ near relatives in the deadly nightshade family, similarly.  However, I think that my efficiency in filling the available space actually worked against me.

I planted the eggplant and bell peppers in a staggered row which allowed me to fit eight plants into only about a sixth of the planter.  The plants were certainly cozy.  It was great until the plants grew up and out, at which point the back row was almost completely shaded by the front row.  In a Catch-22 situation, the plants in the back were never able to get the sun they needed to grow above the plants in front.

We’ll grow them again this year but keep them in a single row.  There will be fewer plants and they will take up more space but they should fill out more and produce a greater number of fruit (last year, each plant only yielded two or three).  Also, I have read that eggplant is a heavy feeder and I assume that the bell peppers are, too.  Therefore, I will fertilize them more often.

What’s left?  Lettuce, for one thing.  The seeds we planted outdoors in early spring thrived.  We were lucky with the weather—not too much heat or rain—and the first seedlings quickly grew into diminutive heads of red leaf and romaine.  Contrary to expectation, they were hardy enough to transplant and remained productive well into the summer.  They did not turn bitter until the very end of their season.

We were not as lucky, however, with the second and third sowings.  Most of the seeds germinated but by the time the seedlings pushed through the soil surface, the weather was either very hot or very wet or, on some days, both.  The extremes were more than the tender seedlings could manage and they simply disintegrated.

It seems that there is a critical period during which the seedlings are quite sensitive and after which they are much sturdier.  Therefore, this year we will start the lettuce indoors.  With the enclosed seed trays, heating pads and fluorescent lights, we can better control their environment during the sensitive stage.  After they develop into heads, we will transplant them into larger pots and move them around, inside or out, based on the weather.

That only leaves the sugar snap peas and the string beans.  All of these performed phenomenally well, especially the peas which came pretty close to my ideal vision of the vegetable.  (If I am a bit hyperbolic, it is because they are some of my favorites.)  We will plant them again this year and see whether we can make them even more successful.

Another strong rain and wind storm swept through the area yesterday and although not seemingly as intense as the deluge a few days ago (see June 24, 2013), it dropped more than half an inch of rain on us.  It was also windier, as evidenced by the tomato and bell pepper plants that were toppled over by the strong gusts.

I’ve mentioned before that the tomato plants have kicked into high gear but I haven’t had much to say about the eggplant and bell peppers.  Up until now, they have been plugging along at a relaxed pace.  However, they too enjoy the drier, warmer conditions that we’ve been having over the last two weeks (occasional downpours notwithstanding) and are making up for lost time accordingly.  The eggplant and peppers are not yet as tall as the tomatoes but generally, all of the deadly nightshades are prospering.

To prevent further mishaps (the thunderstorm season is only just underway), I inspected each tomato plant and Velcro-ed any loose branches to their supporting cages (I snipped off one or two that seemed excessive).  For the eggplant and peppers, I installed a bamboo stake (the green-tinted, pencil-thin variety) adjacent to each stem and tied them together with more Velcro tape.

While working on the bell peppers, I noticed that when they first form, their young leaves look like crumpled wads of paper (albeit shiny, deep-green paper).  As they develop, the wads slowly expand, the leaf surfaces becoming less crinkly until finally, when they are full size, the leaves are smooth and oval.  It is as if invisible hands are opening up and smoothing out the wadded leaves just as one would an important paper thrown into the trash by mistake and later retrieved.

Presumably, at the end of the season, the leaves will dry, darken in color and return to their crumpled state at which point they will truly be ready for the metaphorical wastebasket.  Here they will remain until next spring when the cycle repeats itself.

It has formally been summer since last Friday (June 21) but if I had to base my assessment of the season solely on the weather, I’m not sure I’d agree that it is summer.  With the exception of a few days at the beginning of the month, it has been as cool as it was back in April and May.  And then there’s the rain:  Almost five inches so far this month.

Weather aside, not everyone would agree that summer started on the summer solstice, especially those living in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are the opposite of ours on the north half of the planet.  I was reminded of this by a recent post (from Australia) by BetR2 (see “Am I Learning or Just Confused??? When is the first day of the season again?”).  For her, the start of winter was the source of her confusion.  It seems that there is no consensus as to what officially starts (or ends) a season.

Growing up, I was taught that summer occurred during June, July and August; fall spanned September, October and November; the winter months included December, January and February; leaving March, April and May for spring (although spring almost never lasts three months, even in the northeast US!).  BetR2 was similarly instructed, it appears, although of course, the seasons—and not the calendar—are reversed where she lives.

Others (such as the folks at Google) base the seasons on the astronomical milestones:  the summer and winter solstices and the autumnal and vernal equinoxes.  Followers of this philosophy tend to be staunch despite the irony that summer begins with the days getting shorter and winter with the days getting longer.  I think there is some meteorological basis for this, however, due to heat lag.  In summer, the nights are not long enough for the day’s heat to dissipate and as a result, it continues to accumulate after the shortest night occurs.  The temperature gets hotter even as the days grow shorter.  Eventually, though, the conditions reverse and we start heading back towards cooler days and, eventually, winter.

Another practical approach is to use holidays as the demarcation points.  In the US for example, summer “officially” begins with Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and ends on Labor Day (the first Monday in September).  Christmas often considered a good time for winter to start (although some would argue for Black Friday, which follows Thanksgiving and opens the holiday shopping season).  To round out the seasons, Easter makes a nice transition from winter to spring, with its obvious connotations of rebirth.  Naturally, there are strong cultural, ethnic, and religious influences on this practice.

However defined, it is now summer (in the northern hemisphere) by any calendar.  All we need now is for Mother Nature to catch up.

We were treated to a crashing thunderstorm this evening, a summer tradition after a long, hot day.  Up until about six o’clock, it did not feel like impending rain even though the cloud cover had increased to a deep overcast.  Then, it got suddenly darker and, boom!  The thunder commenced.

Storms usually pass by us at a distance of two miles or more (based on the delay between lightning flash and thunder clap) but this one was closer, a mile perhaps.  Consequently, the thunder was very loud and literally shook the windowpanes.  It was dramatic and very exciting.

Like a typical storm, the light and audio show carried on for 15 to 30 minutes before the rain began.  And when it finally started, it was as if the rain were trying to make up for lost time.  It intensified from a light sprinkle to a raging downpour in an instant and then dumped a huge amount of water in a short time.  Deluge is the word that comes to mind.

Such intensity cannot last, however, and soon the rain slowed to a steady fall, eventually tapering to a mist and finally trailing off.  By eight o’clock, the storm was over and the clouds cleared out.  Judging by the rise in the level of the swimming pool, an inch of rain fell in about two hours.  While the storm itself was not unusual (they inevitably occur after heat spells), such a high rate of rainfall is rare.

The good news is that we will not have to water the garden for a few days.  The not-so-good news is that the rain fell much faster than it could drain away from the garden.  When we went down to the pool for a late night swim—and garden inspection—we found that the mulch had been redistributed by the flowing waters.  One of the only downsides to cedar chips is that they float.

The surface runoff did not cause any damage and no mulch or debris ended up in the pool, whose perimeter is higher than the surrounding areas.  As we have learned too many times before, a benefit of raised planters is that the vegetable plants they contain are elevated well above potential floodwaters.  No threat there (not this time, anyway).

We do have squash and cucumber plants on the ground this year, though, and they are a bit more exposed.  Fortunately, the squash plants were completely undisturbed; apparently, the water drained through the fence and out onto the lawn.  There was some impact to the cucumbers (they are located along the fence) but the soaker hose that waters them acted as a barrier; the plants look to be okay.  Still, the mounds of soil and mulch will have to be replaced.

Luckily, storms of such intensity occur infrequently.  Nonetheless, we will have to take another look at possible drainage improvements.

The lettuce seedlings in the last three spots I planted (in the third go ‘round) have vanished, lost to overwatering (by Mother Nature, not to point a finger or anything) or, perhaps, too much sun (ironic, given how cool it has been lately).  This late in the lettuce’s season, I will say “uncle” and not try (again) to reseed.  On the other hand, the lettuces from the first sowing that I replanted last week (see June 14, 2013) are doing quite well.

And luckily, we still have excess heads of both types of lettuce from that first planting; enough, in fact, to transplant one to each of the bare spots.  After doing just that this morning, we now have 16 lettuce plants safely on their way to maturation.  Some of them are almost ready for partial harvest and, soon, we’ll start clipping leaves (the cut-and-come-back method of harvesting) for as long as the cool weather lasts.

It’s early for a season recap but even so, I will have to start thinking about what might work better next year.  My initial thought is that we might want to start the lettuce indoors next year.  We chose not to do so this season based on the belief that transplanting the seedlings would be problematic.  I have found, however, that once they reach a modest size (three or four leaves), the lettuce plants can be replanted easily and effectively.  The compartmentalized seed trays we use will further facilitate the process.

Alternatively, it is possible that the lettuces would do well in containers.  The pots would have to be large enough for several heads to fit but small enough to be easily moved out of the pounding rain or beating sun.  Translucent covers might also be a good idea and more manageable with a smaller container.  Further, with this approach we might be able to grow the lettuce in warmer conditions.  If so, we could start experimenting later this year.

Ideally, we would have mature lettuce at the same time the tomatoes are ripe.  That’s right:  I’m thinking BLTs.

Yesterday, it rained and rained, through the night and into this morning.  More than an inch and a half had accumulated by the time the storm passed.  There will be no need to run the water for several days.

With the soil in the planters moist (but not soggy) and the sun finally shining (but not too brightly), it seemed like a good time to redistribute the lettuce seedlings.  The first seeding was very successful and there are two, three or even four heads growing in each spot.

On the other hand, three of the spots from the second and third seedings are bare (with three others likely to become empty soon).  Using a trowel, I dug a large hole in one of the vacant spots and then scooped out a lettuce plant, taking a generous clump of soil to protect its roots.

I carefully placed the lettuce plant into the hole and then used the displaced soil to fill the newly-created void.  Of course, there was not quite enough soil from the first hole to completely fill the second.  Digging holes is not a conservative process.

Regardless of how careful I am in containing the spoils from each excavation, a small portion always gets lost.  The remainder becomes more compacted and the result is a slight depression anywhere I have dug.  As with friction (which always acts in opposition), this phenomenon is unyielding and immutable.

After repeating the process a few times, the budding heads of lettuce are now spread out over most of the lettuce patch.  I’m not sure how the transplants will react to the move but I’ll keep a close eye on them to insure they do not dry out.

So maybe we don’t bother trying to grow lettuce next year.

The third round of lettuce seedlings have sprouted but not every seed and not at every location I planted.  I’ve kept them covered and moist (if anything, we’ve had too much rain lately) but there is nothing but bare soil in some of the spots.

And the seedlings that have sprouted are so very small and fragile.  The romaine lettuce sends up a stem that is no thicker than a few strands of hair.  It is easily knocked over by wind or beaten down by rain.  The red leaf lettuce is not much hardier.  Even in fair weather, the miniscule sprouts are susceptible to burning in the sun.

Meanwhile, one of the second planting of red leaf lettuce has disappeared.  I’m not sure if it disintegrated in the heavy rains or was melted in the heat, but it is no longer anywhere to be seen.

Not very encouraging.

On the other hand, the first planting of lettuce seems to have turned a corner.  The individual heads are getting larger daily and are sending out new leaves.  We will soon have to eat the excess or transplant it elsewhere.  Given our lack of success with subsequent sowings, the latter is most likely.

A friend of Rachel’s brought us a pot of Italian arugula seedlings (she took some of our surplus vegetables) and perhaps we will plant them with our other lettuces.  The arugula is already established (and easily recognizable with its narrow, jagged-edged leaves) and, according to the friend, very easy to grow.

The third seeding of the lettuces sprouted yesterday.  The seedlings are tiny and frail (were the first seedlings this small?) so I will leave them covered a bit longer.  To prop up the cloth covers, I laid a stake across the soil surface.  This will give the seedlings room to grow while remaining protected from wind, sun and evaporation.

The initial crookneck squash on each vine has grown to about an inch in length but both are experiencing blossom end rot.  One of them might be salvageable (in other words, we may be able to eat it yet) but the other is too far gone (I cut it off and tossed it out).  There has just been too much rain (e.g., almost an inch yesterday).

I’m not concerned about losing these first, early, squashes.  Shortly after we started the garden in 2011, a farmer friend told us that the first squash will never reach full size and that it is better to harvest it when still small to encourage additional growth.  It makes me wonder what purpose this early fruit serves.  It appears weeks before expected, with next-to-no hope of surviving to maturity.

I may have been deficient in my thinning during the last week, especially of the carrots, but almost everything in the west planter is in need of more space.  The growth of the carrots and beets has been very slow—they are all are much overdue—and crowding may be a factor.  Over the next few days, we will thin the older plants mercilessly using the three-finger rule.  I see salads and sautéed greens in our future.