Half baked

Friends, I’m hiding indoors until this heat wave passes.

 
I have much to do in the garden, but it will have to wait. It hasn’t rained in weeks, and the ground is cracked open wide. I miss the summers of my childhood, when it seldom reached 90 degrees and almost every evening, it seemed, brought a soothing, cooling thunderstorm. Lately I’ve been catching the dish-rinsing water in a pan and running outside to relieve the container plants from their exhausted state.
Since I remain indoors, my patio umbrella shades the tomatoes and squash from the midday sun. Providing some shade can help your vegetables struggle through the hottest days and last longer into the season, but keep making succession sowings and keep those plants well mulched and watered.

Talk to you soon, my friends. I need a frosty beverage.

The waiting is the hardest part: Hardening off seedlings

I have three weeks to go until our average last frost date.

coldframe full

I did really well this winter, getting seeds sown and potting things on. Now, I’ve got to hang on until the tender things are safe to plant. The cold frame is jammed full.

Hardening off seedlings, though, is too important a process to skip. I skipped it all the time until I built my cold frame–mostly because I didn’t want to spend half the morning bringing trays of plants in and out of the house–and my plants performed correspondingly poorly.

Hardening off is a process of gradually exposing seedlings and tender plants to larger temperature variations and stronger light levels than they experience indoors. The process produces slower, sturdier, more resilient growth, preparing plants for life in the open garden. Without a cold frame, gardeners place plants in a sheltered location outside–maybe in a shaded site, close to the warmth of the house–for a short period of time, lengthening the exposure to outside conditions every few days.

Using a cold frame–basically a tiny greenhouse–makes the process far less tedious. It’s not quite a matter of set-it-and-forget-it, but it frees up lots of the time and space other parts of life demand. My cold frame, which I constructed myself from recycled materials for about $30, faces south and backs up to my house. I start hardening off my seedlings in mid-February, when we begin to see a few 50-degree (10C) days. I start with the hardy perennials, then move in the hardy annuals. Tender plants come last. Space permitting, I sow vegetable seeds in flats directly in the cold frame.

During the first few days in the frame, I place plants on its south side so they sit in slight shadow from the frame’s front wall. They gradually move towards the back as more plants come in. On unusually warm days, I vent the cold frame by propping open the glass doors, made of discarded windows. This keeps the temperatures inside from getting too hot–such fragile plants can quickly dehydrate and die if the temperatures climb too high. Sometimes I’ll prop open the windows entirely, but cover the opening with a bit of horticultural fabric. This practice lets the light in but keeps hungry foraging birds and squirrels and early insect pests out.

coldframe full 2

The second quadrant of the cold frame.

We’re getting close enough to the last-frost date that I may move out some of the plants with the longest tenancy–particularly the perennials–into permanent locations. They’ve withstood some cold nights already, so a late frost won’t likely bother them.

Believe, gardeners! The digging season is nearly here.

 

 

 

Tutorial: Garden hose repair

Although for most of my watering tasks I try to rely on my rain barrels, occasionally I do need to use a hose. And as hoses tend to develop cracks and leaks over time, I take time once or twice a year to do some mending. It’s easy to do, and much less expensive than buying a new hose.

I came into a discarded garden hose recently and am carving it up into lengths to join portions of soaker hose. Using short lengths of non-soaker hose in between the soaker lengths reduces water waste in those areas that don’t need watering. hose repair assemble materials

Here, I have two screwdrivers, a flat head and a Phillips head (x-head). I also have a tape measure, male and female hose fittings (be sure to get a size that matches your hose diameter), and rubber washers. A knife or box cutter is also required for this task.

The fittings can be purchased at any hardware store for a few dollars apiece. Rubber washers can be purchased singly for a few cents apiece, or in larger packets, ensuring you’ve got them when you need them. While these are plastic fittings, and this particular brand has worked well for me in the past, brass fittings are also available, and though they cost a bit more they are well worth the investment to repair a high-quality hose.

Repairing a hose:

1. Measure the length of hose you need, mark it, and cut it. Make a straight cut; it will reduce leaks when you attach the fittings.

2. Determine which fitting you need. Each length of hose should have one male and one female end.

3. Insert the tapered end of the appropriate fitting into the cut length of the hose.  It may help to lubricate the end of the fitting with a bit of petroleum jelly. Make sure the hose comes up to the top of the fitting’s threads. Below on the right is a well-seated male fitting.

4. Secure the new attachment with a clamp (these often come with the fitting, or can be purchased separately ).

That’s it! Once you mend your first hose you’ll be very impressed with yourself and will start looking for other things to mend. This practice is habit-forming and may result in your spending lots of time in hardware stores poring over bins of clamps and screws.

Cooling it: Helping your veggies through intense summer heat

Getting a good harvest through the summer, particularly in areas where temperatures regularly rest above 90F (32.2C), can be challenging. Today, it’s 97 (36.1C) and still. I watered early in the morning. A thick layer of straw mulch covers the ground around all the vegetables, and shredded bark mulch protects the ornamentals, but it doesn’t feel like much help.

Seeing my plants droop in the heat makes me depressed. More importantly, heat-stressed plants are more susceptible to viruses, fungal diseases, and all sorts of nasty stuff. So today, in anticipation of these ghastly temperatures, I went spelunking in the shed and found the old patio umbrella and cast iron stand. I set them up on the southwestern corner of the raised bed, where the umbrella shades the beans, tomatoes, and some of the peppers from noon until sunset. They do get morning sun, as well as reflected light all day from the gravel paths close by.

It may sound ludicrous, but providing your vegetables just a tiny bit of shade, particularly from the afternoon heat, can make a big difference in their resiliency over the season. Give it a try.