Archives for posts with tag: rain

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.

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.

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.

I was relieved to discover this morning that the Delicata squash seeds have finally sprouted.  We had begun to think that germination had failed and that we would need to reseed.  Apparently, they just needed a little extra time and lot of extra moisture (it rained all day yesterday).

We now have two seedlings of each winter squash variety (the other is a Kabocha variant).  We’ll let them grow a bit longer before deciding which ones to cull.

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.

Saturday was a washout (it rained all day) and yesterday, we spent our time expanding the west end of the garden (see May 26, 2013).  Today it is time to plant!

To start, we installed the tomato cages across north side of the east planter.  In each of the last two years, we added stakes late in the season to stabilize the cages against the unbalanced forces of unruly tomato vines.  Recognizing the inevitability of this step, this year we did it right from the beginning.

For each variety of tomato, we chose the two best specimens (even after having given some away, we had several to choose from), dug a deep hole on either side of a cage, and buried the seedlings and their root balls up to the first set of true leaves.  The buried portion of the stems will produce roots and help firmly establish the plant in the soil.  In prior years, I have relied on my memory to keep the location of the different tomato varieties straight.  This year, I placed row markers against the stakes.

In the south center of the east planter, we formed two rows, staggered, for the eggplant and peppers.  We have room for eight plants and chose three Rosso bell peppers, three eggplant, and two orange bell peppers.  We have no need to identify these with row markers; their fruits will (eventually) identify them.

I read that that bell peppers like to be close to each other—to hold hands—so we placed them with only about a foot in between.  All will eventually need support for their main stems but being short on stakes, we will have to provide them later (they are not yet very tall so there is time).

In the remaining sextant (at the southeast corner), we laid out a relatively dense pattern of staggered rows for the basil.  We planted nine seedlings that had been hardened off (we gave away the others) and added five seedlings from indoors.  The latter had not been hardened off and they showed it with their droopy leaves (I would be disconsolate, too, if I had been kicked out of the house).  These seedlings are also smaller having never been potted up.

With that, the east planter is now full.  We gave all of the newly transplanted seedlings a drink of water (we’ll install soaker hoses later) along with a dose of fish emulsion.

Our plan this year is to expand the garden and plant the squashes, both the summer squash seedlings and winter squash seeds, directly in the ground to the west of the west planter.  It is also our intention to grow the cucumbers along the fence, just behind (i.e., north of) the planters.  When we hatched this plan in the middle of the winter (see January 16, 2013), it seemed like we had all the time in the world to make it happen.

Well, five months later, it is still only a plan.  The difference is that now we have two dozen seedlings that are almost ready to be transplanted.  That we have not yet prepared the garden for them is not yet critical (they’re still fine in their pots) but getting it done has increased in urgency.  The plants will continue to grow regardless of what we do—or don’t do.

Sadly, the weather has not been conducive to outdoor activities.  It remains unseasonably cool and unusually rainy (all of the showers we were supposed to have in April arrived this month instead).  The work will have to wait a bit longer.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to refine and better define our plans.

Preparing the ground for the squashes will first mean removing more sod, 160 sq. ft. of it to be specific.  This is almost exactly the same area (158 sq. ft.) as we removed around the planters at the end of April (see April 27, 2013, part 2 and April 28, 2013) so we have a long day (or two) ahead of us.

It’s not something I look forward to but I am heartened by the fact that there is not much that would qualify as sod in that part of the lawn.  It is mostly weeds and bare earth which should come out with substantially less effort than the soil in grassier regions, especially if the conditions are favorable (e.g., shortly after a rainy day).

Once the sod is removed, we will cover the area with cedar mulch to match the adjoining garden.  That will leave us with a blank canvas on which to lay out our squash plants.  According to the seed packets, they should be spaced at about five feet in each direction and we know from experience that squash plants can get quite large.  Even so, we would like to fit as many as possible within the available space.

So I sketched a rough plan of the garden as it currently exists to the east and as we envision it to the west.  The squash zone is eight feet by 20 feet and we will need aisle space on each side and between it and the west planter.  Assuming one foot for the former and two feet for the latter leaves us with a useable area that is six feet by 18 feet.

This divides nicely into 12 sections, each three feet square (and each nine square feet).  We have enough seedlings (and seeds) to plant all of them but that might result in more squash than we can handle.  Also, if we plant the entire area with squash this year, we would have to find someplace else to plant squash next year to avoid replanting in exactly the same place.

Instead, we will plant six of the sections in a staggered arrangement and leave the other six sections vacant (next year, we will swap locations).  We will plant two of each type of summer squash (crookneck and zucchini) and one of each variety of winter squash (Kabocha and Delicata).

When they mature towards the end of the summer, the squash vines will be more circular than square in extent and that means there will be a narrow space between them (about 15 inches, or three feet times the square root of two minus one).  This will provide some additional access.

The cucumbers are a bit easier to configure.  We will plant three of each kind (slicing and pickling), spaced at two feet, behind the east planter.  We planted cucumbers in the west planter last year and will plant them behind it next year.  It is neither a long-cycle crop rotation nor a long-distance one but we hope that it will keep the striped cucumber beetles guessing, at least for a little while.

Rachel predicts that we will next decide to convert the area east of the planters (about 64 sq. ft. are available there) and jokes that eventually, the pool will be surrounded by the vegetable garden.  At the rate we are going, it is probably no joke!

Today was a big day for our garden.  The last of the indoor seeds—the Orange Sun bell peppers—have germinated and started to sprout.  They are emerging slowly and reluctantly, like sleepy children on a cold morning who do not want to get out of bed to get ready for school.

Meanwhile, in the west raised bed, both the beets and the peas have popped up.  Perhaps last night’s thunderstorm startled them into action.  It has been gray and cool these last few days and it was nice to get a deep watering—and light show—in reward for suffering through it.

Although it has been two weeks since we planted the initial batch of root crops, we’ve decided to wait another week until sowing seeds for the next round.  Last year, the beets and radishes were slow to develop in the early part of the season and as a result, there was not as much elongation of the harvest period as we had expected.  The longer delay should account for the colder temperatures.  If it warms up, we will not wait as long before planting the final row.

The only seedlings that have not shown themselves are the carrots.  I have heard that they are very sensitive to drying out and even when kept properly moist, can take a long time to germinate.  We’ll continue to coddle them (but won’t let them miss the school bus).