Archives for posts with tag: wind

When a pirate buries his treasure, it is not for forever; he expects to come back for it. It may take some time before he can return—there are many ships to rob and his own vessel’s speed is limited by the winds—so it is important that he prepare for an almost inevitable occurrence: that he will forget where he buried for it.

How does he prevent that from happening? Well, the organized pirate makes a treasure map.

And not just any treasure map. If the pirate is also clever (and if he is alive, he most certainly is; most dumb pirates will quickly end up dead), he will incorporate some sort of code into his map. That way, if it falls into enemy hands (a competing raider’s, say), the location of the chest of gold (or what have you) will not be immediately revealed. In the time it takes to decipher it, the original pirate can track down the thief (who, most unfortunately, will probably end up walking the plank) and reclaim his map.

Even for non-pirates, making a secret map to protect one’s buried treasure is a pretty good idea. Except for certain buried treasures.

I’m talking, of course, about flowering bulbs.

When I bury a chestful of these little golden orbs, I want to forget where I left them. One of the greatest joys of planting bulbs is the exhilarating jolt of surprise when the blossoms are first sighted in late winter or early spring, usually pushing through a crust of snow. Having a map that gives their locations away would spoil half of the fun, for me anyway.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I want to leave my buried treasures susceptible to theft. If I thought it would help prevent the squirrels from stealing my precious stash, I would employ the most enigmatic map I could devise.

And if I still caught them plundering my treasure?

Arrgh! I would send those marauding squirrels to Davy Jones’ Locker!

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You need three things for effective weeding: the right conditions; the right tools; and the right attitude.

If any of these are missing, weeding can be miserable. Weather too dry? The weeds snap off at the stem. Too windy? Their seeds are scattered about the yard, making your efforts pointless. Too hot? You get worn out (and possibly sunburned) before getting much done. On the other hand, a day or two after a long, soaking rain, many weeds will practically jump out of the soil on their own.

The best tool for most weeding is your hands. But for certain types of weeds, specialized implements are essential. For example, dandelions have a long taproot that extends deep into the soil. It is exceedingly brittle and without a tool that can break up the earth around the taproot (see May 11, 2013), attempts to remove the dandelion will leave most of the root behind.

The hardest thing to calibrate is attitude. At its most fundamental, weeding is a chore and like most chores, it falls low on people’s lists of preferred activities. It’s bad enough when you have plenty of time to get the task done, but if you are feeling rushed or desperately desire to do something else instead, weeding can feel like torture.

Still, despite the considerable downside potential, when all three factors—weather, equipment and enthusiasm—are in place, weeding can be immensely satisfying. For me, it becomes almost meditative and when I get into a groove (or what Daniel Pink would call the flow), I can clear a large area before eventually tiring out.

And that’s a good thing, too: last year’s bumper crop of dandelions was followed this year by an exponential increase in their population. Even if I spend an hour a day in the groove, it will take me until fall to get them all (and that’s not counting the purslane, bitterroot and crabgrass).

It is the first day of fall (by some, but not all, reckonings; see June 25, 2013) and the weather shows it.  It was rainy and blustery last night, cool and damp this morning.  The frogs, apparently in denial, still swim around the pool but with grimaces on their faces.  The water is cold.  It has been too cold for me lately, too.

There are many, many cherry tomatoes on the Sungold and Black Cherry vines, most of them green.  And most of them have been falling off with each raw gust of wind.  The Sungolds in particular do not enjoy this cooler weather.  Even the tomatoes that turn the characteristic brilliant shade of yellow are about half the diameter of their peak-season counterparts.

In fact, I’m a bit worried about the Sungold vines.  They seem to be infected with some type of disease.  First the leaves, then the stems, and finally the tomatoes themselves turn a sickly shade of brown.  It is an eerie effect, not unlike the moon eclipsing the sun and casting the daytime world into a gloomy twilight.  Unfortunately, it is not a condition that is likely to pass as quickly (or at all).

Trees are a treasure, a joy to have around.  They provide a habitat for birds, insects and other critters; act as a buffer against wind, rain and snow; and are the main generator of atmospheric oxygen and consumer of carbon dioxide.  Plus, they are beautiful to behold.  If they are not the focus of a picturesque view, they are probably framing it.

But sometimes they get in the way.  Usually, this is merely an annoyance, such as when they block the view (see, for example, August 12, 2013).  Other times, though, trees can block solar exposure, often to detrimental effect.  I’ve become painfully aware of this phenomenon in the garden as the summer has wound down.

I noticed this morning, for instance, that the garden is still in the shade long after 8:00 am, the hour at which it came into full sun at summer’s peak.  Two months after the summer solstice, however, the sun is already quite a bit lower in the sky and as a result, the tall trees to the east of us are obstructing its direct rays.  It is light in the early morning but it is not exactly sunny.

Similarly, this afternoon, the tips of the fir trees on our neighbor’s property, just to the southern side of our pool fence, are casting a shadow on the south wall of the planters.  The inclination of the sun will only get lower as the days pass while the trees will only get taller with each passing year.  Soon, the shadows will pass across the vegetables shortly after midday, further shortening the growing day.

This is in spite of the fact that we removed two large trees in the spring (see May 17, 2013 and May 17, 2013, part 3).  Their absence has made a huge difference in the garden’s afternoon sun exposure but as it turns out, the impact’s duration is limited to the period starting a month before the solstice until a month afterwards.  Outside of that two-month range, we will feel the effects of the changes in solar exposure in the house more than in the garden.

Which brings us around to the beneficial aspects of solar shielding (to end on a positive note, lest anyone think that I am hostile to trees).  In warm climates, properly placed trees prevent solar gain within buildings and reduce their cooling load.  Where the weather is warm the year round, evergreen trees maintain a constant screen.  Alternately, where winters are cold, deciduous trees conveniently drop their leaves, allowing solar radiation to pass and provide natural heating.

Here’s one of the things that can happen when tomato plants extend too far beyond their supports:  A stray gust of wind can knock down an over-reaching branch, resulting in a damaged stem or fruit.  This befell a Country Taste beefsteak vine last night during one of the unusually cool rainstorms that have characterized the weather this August.

In this case, the affected branch was one of the main stems, a forked vine supporting half a dozen ripening tomatoes (all still very green).  And sadly, the damage was irreparable.  When I tried to straighten out the toppled plant in order to tie it securely to its cage, the stem snapped off.  Tomato stems will accommodate a high degree of deformation but their capacity is not limitless.

On the surviving stem, I made a clean cut and used an additional Velcro strip to lash the free end to the cage.  I then harvested the unripe tomatoes from the broken branch and took them inside.  Two of them, at least, are very close to turning red and may ripen on the kitchen countertop.  The remaining four—much smaller but otherwise in fine condition—will not likely get any better before they start to get worse (but don’t worry, we will eat them anyway).

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.

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.

Providing freeze protection is annoying.  The plastic sheeting must be supported above the seedlings (so as not to crush them) but it must also be weighted down to prevent it from flying off in a gust of wind.  Furthermore, it cannot be put into place until the sun is low in the sky (otherwise, the plants would cook) and needs to be removed shortly after sunrise (for the same reason).  Ironically, the early morning hours can be the coldest of the day.

But the freeze protection has its positive side.  There’s the protection against freezing, of course.  As a secondary benefit, however, the plastic sheeting also provides physical protection.  A critter (or critters) romped through the garden last night as occurs several times each season. They rarely damage the plants but with the garden covered, there was absolutely no danger.  The vegetable plants made it through the night untouched.

The beast (or beasts) had some fun with the uncovered east half of the east planter, though.  What a mess!  It isn’t clear what they are looking for.  Gold?  Buried treasure? Buried acorns?  Insects?  Nor is it clear whether they found anything.

Regardless of the intent or success of the overnight raid, the soil and mulch were easily restored.

The tomato and squash seedlings that remain in the seed trays are getting too big (the basil, eggplant and pepper seedlings, on the other hand, are not quite big enough).  I think we will be giving some away so I decided to pot up the best specimens.  Following the same procedure as before (see May 4, 2013), I transplanted as many seedlings as would fit in the drainage trays.

Deciding which seedlings would live and which would not was difficult.  As the proud poppa, they all look beautiful to me!  I tried not to dwell on it, however, and made the decisions quickly.  I gave preference to the two types of cherry tomato (which should be easier for part-time gardeners to grow) and was prejudiced against the Brandywines, both red and yellow (which I understand are the most difficult).  When I was done, the compost pile (well, at the moment it’s a refuse heap) got the addition of some very nice organic matter.

While I was at work, everybody, whether in a seed tray or small pot, joined me outdoors for a first day of hardening off.  Before starting the potting up operation, I moved all of the seedlings to the back porch where they could enjoy some indirect sunlight (the porch is covered by the dining room) and gentle breezes (a stone wall moderates the gusts of wind that can reach the porch).  After finishing the transplanting—which took just over an hour—I returned the seedlings to their cozy indoor nursery.

Tomorrow, they will come out again, and the visits will continue over the next two weeks.  Some time next week, or maybe the week after, the seedlings will spend some time in direct sunlight in preparation for transplanting to the raised beds.  My plan is to get everything in the ground over the Memorial Day weekend.