Posts Tagged ‘rain’
After five rainless days, the mud in my garden had dried out enough to qualify once again as soil… but just barely. There were no sucking noises when I dug, the holes held their shapes, and the soil actually crumbled (well… some of the soil crumbled).
My small kitchen garden dried out quite a bit over the past week; we had no rain for five days! Encouraged, I decided to move my brassica seedlings into the main garden bed.
The highest point of my garden is at its southeast corner, so naturally I started there. The soil was dry enough that I could loosen it to remove weeds, dig holes, and set seedlings without hearing sucking noises. But it was still very wet. In most years, I’ve planted in far drier soil in early April.
Slow Going in my Kitchen Garden
Even after setting in my broccoli and cauliflower, I wasn’t motivated to work more in the main planting bed; it was just too sloppy. And, while I waited two more days for the garden to dry out, more rain arrived.
Five rainless days for my small kitchen garden to dry out, and still the soil is very, very wet. Nearly every scoop I removed to dig holes for my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings stuck to the trowel—even when I tipped it to point at the ground. Rain has started again and there has been standing water in some low spots so it looks as though I won’t be planting anything else in the garden for some time. I’ve shifted attention to container gardening, and when the rain is light I’ll prep and plant my newer planting bed which seems to drain more quickly than the main planting bed.
At this point, the broccoli and cauliflower look happy; they don’t seem to mind having wet feet. Sadly, we’re about two weeks away from tomato and chili pepper planting season which is supposed to mark the beginning of the end of the pea harvest.
It seems unlikely I’ll plant peas this year. Even a wilt-resistant variety won’t be happy maturing in July. And, in an average year, I’d plant winter squash after removing the peas around July 1st; were I to plant peas now and were they to survive into July, they’d have a rather awkward relationship with the squash.
This photo has nothing to do with rhubarb. My neighbor’s magnolia blossoms were dramatic a few days ago, and I shot this photo looking west across the fields in front of our houses. Magnolia blossoms are among my favorites, and I wanted to dress up this blog post… so please enjoy.
It seems as though every article I post these days is about how wet is my small kitchen garden. This one has to do with how wet is my rhubarb. Variety is the spice of life!
My History with Rhubarb
My dad managed about five rhubarb plants in a back corner of our yard. I ate rhubarb only as sauce; can’t remember my mom ever preparing it another way. When finally I had space for my own kitchen garden, I bought several rhubarb plants from a local nursery and planted a tidy row near my planting bed.
For a few years, I had a modest rhubarb harvest each spring, but rarely enough for more than a pot or two of sauce—and maybe some rhubarb pies. Then we had rain.
I joked often that spring that if you weren’t playing golf in the rain, you weren’t playing golf. We had enough dry days to plant a vegetable garden, but I discovered that the rhubarb patch was in a low spot; there was standing water around the plants through much of the spring and by autumn there was no sign at all of rhubarb.
In the Falkland Island war, trench foot disabled more of Great Britain’s troops than combat injuries did. Trench foot arises when your feet are cold and wet for days at a time. That’s what’s happening to my rhubarb. By April 28, a few of the rhubarb plants in my main bed had barely produced leaves; trench foot is holding them back and may eventually kill them.
When rhubarb failed to emerge in the spring, I bought new plants and committed a sliver of my main planting bed to perennials; a dramatic departure as it meant having less room for the annual vegetables. Still, the planting bed sits a few inches above its surrounds, so I expected the rhubarb to be safe in particularly wet years.
This Spring is not “Particularly Wet;” it’s Wetter
Despite the drier planting bed, I’ve had only one really healthy plant for the past many years. Other plants have struggled during wet seasons and so have never grown hearty and productive. Finally, last year I set six rhubarb plants in a new area that doesn’t hold water the way my main planting bed seems to.
Mind you, my main planting bed is usually very moist in early spring, but I’ve always been able to till in March and April. Except for this year. My perennials have been in standing water at least one day for each day they’ve been dry. Some sections of the planting bed have had puddles continuously for 20 or more days.
A full 13 days before I photographed the rhubarb with trench foot (that’s the previous photo), the residential rhubarb inspector acknowledged that plants in my new rhubarb patch (in this photo) are in great shape. Today, despite the rain, these plants are nearly ready for a first harvest. The drainage around my new rhubarb patch is a bit better than the drainage in my main planting bed.
I can’t work the soil with so much moisture in it. Worse: the rhubarb is very unhappy. Of the six plants within my garden fence, I’m likely to lose two or three. That will leave me with a respectable nine plants which is double what I’ve ever had.
Remediation for my Small Kitchen Garden
The lesson, I suppose, is that every season brings its own challenges. Will it ever be wet like this again? This year’s frustration motivates me: I’ll probably take steps to reduce the agony caused by excessive spring rains.
My most obvious move is to add soil to my planting bed. The retaining wall now stands at least 4 inches above the soil so I can easily top up the bed. This will provide a buffer above spring-soaked soil in wet years, and I’ll be able to plant even when rains saturate the surrounding yard.
Actually, I won’t add soil. If I add anything it will be a mixture of sand, charcoal, and compost or mushroom soil. Then, I’ll till aggressively to mix the new stuff in with the underlying clay-heavy soil. After that, I’ll return to my minimal-disturbance approach to planting… and it’ll take way more rain than we’re having this year to keep me from planting spring vegetables
I figure to set tomato seedlings in the garden in late May so I started seeds at the beginning of April. I love how a tomato sprout pushes up a section of stem and then eventually pulls its leaf tips free.
As a kitchen gardener, I get excited when the first seeds sprout in my office each spring. If I manage things well, those sprouts are lettuces and brassicas (cauliflower and broccoli). They can go into the garden more than a month before cold-sensitive crops such as tomatoes and chili peppers, and it’s great to give them a head start so they have plenty of productive time outdoors before summer heat shuts them down.
My Small Kitchen Garden is a Lake
I planted several varieties of lettuce in early March along with a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower seeds. They came on well, and I figured to plant them outdoors in late March or early April—about when I started tomatoes and peppers in my office.
I started four types of lettuce near the beginning of March. The Summer Crisp and Purple Leaf lettuces in this planter should have gone in the garden two or three weeks ago. We’d be eating fresh garden salads if we’d had about six inches less rain in the past month.
Here’s the thing: my planting bed has been too wet to garden. The longest gap between rainstorms in the past six weeks has been, perhaps, three days. Each storm has lasted at least 12 hours and deposited enough water to saturate the soil and leave puddles on top.
When I first plunged a garden fork into the soil and pressed down on the handle to loosen things up for my lettuce seedlings, there was a loud sucking noise. My soil contains a lot of clay, so if I work it when it’s wet I might just as well be making pottery as tilling.
My tomato seedlings are getting big enough to set outdoors and I’ll probably transplant them to larger pots in ten days or so. In the meantime, my lettuce and brassica seedlings are getting really annoyed. They desperately want out of their planters and into the garden.
The cauliflower and broccoli plants look nearly large enough to put up their central florets. If the garden doesn’t dry out in the next few days, I’ll move the plants into large pots on my deck; I’ve never grown cauliflower and broccoli in planters, but I’m confident they’ll do well that way.
Because the garden continues to remain under water, I may need to set my lettuce seedlings in individual pots and manage them on my deck. Otherwise, it may be so hot by the time the garden is ready that the seedlings will bolt and there won’t be any lettuce to harvest.
Broccoli and cauliflower are a bit more heat-tolerant, and they can go in the garden later. However, they also need more space for roots, so if these rain storms continue I’ll be potting up the brassicas about when I pot up the tomatoes.
Usually I push the season a bit and get my plants in the ground too early. The way 2011 is developing, I can’t get them in the ground early enough. With luck, the rain will let up before June and I’ll be able to set out tomato and pepper seedlings without resorting to SCUBA gear. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to consider growing rice in my small kitchen garden.
How’s your kitchen garden doing?
No, I’m not making it up: my garden is very wet. Word is that local farmers are two weeks behind because of the weather. After a full day without rain, there is still standing water in my main planting bed. Apparently, some types of weeds don’t mind having wet feet.