Archives for posts with tag: ideal growing conditions

As noted on their license plates, the State of Maine is known as Vacationland. And now I know why.

Rachel and I have driven up to Rockport for the weekend (we’re mixing Rachel’s business and our vacation) and have discovered that the Maine coast is just one big family resort. The woods and forests are pristine, the coastline long and scraggly, and the air is clear and fresh. There are also some good restaurants here (lobster, anyone?).

But, most of all, the climate is perfect. Here we are in the middle of August—the summer’s peak, really—and the midday temperature is in the mid-70s. That’s warm enough to wear shorts and a tee shirt with no worry of overheating. It might be as humid as it is at home (that would be due to the proximity of the ocean) but it’s so moderate in temperature that it feels comfortable.

In short, the weather is perfect for spending the entire day outdoors. Anything that can be done outside is at its best when done here: Hiking, boating, swimming, cycling…

…and gardening.

It turns out that there are many lush gardens in Maine. Most of the houses we’ve seen have a plot of vegetables or flowers—or both—in their yards. And a garden center near our hotel is one of the biggest I’ve seen anywhere, with an astonishingly diverse assortment of growing things. Who would have expected it?

Not me. I always thought that with its short growing season and cold, icy winters that Maine would not be ideal for gardening. The climate (I figured) might be suitable for evergreens and chrysanthemums but not tomatoes.

What I failed to consider is that although the growing season may be short, the growing day is long. Sixteen hours of sunlight per day, it appears, more than makes up for the loss of May and September.

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Funny what will happen when you aren’t looking.

Due to a combination of other activities (which used up all of my available time) and inclement weather (which kept me indoors when I was not out running errands), I did not make it into the garden yesterday until after dark.  I made an inspection as best I could (the solar-powered bird lights from Ikea do not cast much light) but was only able to determine that nothing major had occurred in the garden all day.

Or so I thought.  This morning, while making my rounds, I discovered that most of the string beans have sprouted.  And “sprouted” would be an understatement.  Not only have the seeds germinated and the stems pushed their way to the soil surface, but already, the seedlings are three to four inches tall.

String beans produce stocky stems right from the start and most of the stems already support a pair of true leaves.  With only two days of growth, some of them already look larger and hardier than the beets, which have been growing since April.  The seedlings of the Bush II beans are a bright pea-green while the stems of the Amethyst purple pole beans are a ruddy green, a color similar to rhubarb.

The seedlings emerged two days before the early estimate provided on the seed package.  Funny how fast a plant will grow when the conditions are right.

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.

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.