June 2, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #4

In the month of May, the greater St Louis area received more than four times our usual rainfall. In fact, we're already more than halfway to our normal annual rainfall, but we typically have rain fairly well distributed throughout the year, eventually reaching our rainiest month in November.

This has proven to be very bad for some of my new plants.

The Odessa Summer Squash babies I started indoors are trying valiantly to reproduce before dying.

If you look really closely here (or click on the image to enlarge it), you can see that my Royalty Purple Pod beans dropped all their leaves...AFTER they started growing tiny little purple beans. Bummer.

Another side effect of the rainfall is that ants have moved into the lovely, well-drained soil of the planter bed to escape the waterlogged clay that makes up the rest of my yard. When I cleaned out a handful of dead leaves, I unplugged the rain-stopper the ants had fashioned and discovered this hole. It's about the diameter of my index finger. I found about 12 holes this size throughout the planter.

Should I be worried? Because I am.

Yesterday, I planted two new Odessa squash near each of the dying seedlings. I also planted two new Royalty Purple pod beans near each of their denuded friends. Hopefully they'll quickly sprout and overtake the poor waterlogged seedlings...

On the upside, our tomatillo plant and its companion nasturtium sprouts seem to be doing well. Guess it's not all bad news...

Did I mention that thunderstorms are in our forecast for every day this week? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rainfall will be minimal and that the winds don't do any major damage.

UPDATE (6/6/08): I decided to cover the garden with a frost cloth and plant new seeds next to the dying squash and beans. Half of the new seeds are already up! I'll keep you posted...


Melinda said...

How bad is the wind? Can you build a row cover for your entire bed to protect from rain? You'd need to buy some long, strong wire and plastic sheeting. (Your local nursery may sell the wires already cut.) Then bend the wires in a hoop, and place them about 3' apart. Then fasten the plastic to the hoop. I use special clips for this purpose - you may be able to find them in your local nursery. Or just secure it another way with something you have around the house. Also make sure you secure the plastic at the bottom - by stapling it to the wood, or staking it into the soil.

You'll be able to use these again to protect your plants from frost at the end of the season.

I've never had problems with ants and never heard of them doing serious damage. I'd be more concerned about the water.... I hope it stops soon!!

Lori said...

my seester,
The recent storms have spawned plenty of tornadoes, but thankfully none of them have been in this area. I'd say the wind reaches 20-25 mph in gusts, but isn't horrible.

I have a white fabric cover I bought at gardener's supply that lets 85% of the light through, but should protect the plants from the brunt of the winds and some of the heaviest raindrops. Since the bed is already surrounded by fencing, I just punched a few small holes in the edges of the fabric and clipped it to the bottom of the fencing with twist ties. I just finished that little project, and it will have to do for now because we're expecting our third round of storms for the day.

I may be able to get some breathable plastic sheeting over the bed in the next couple of days so I can really prevent the water from getting into the planter. I wonder what the impact of plastic would be with our sunny parts of the day, since we're in the upper 80s and low 90s this time of year - do you think the plants would be okay with the heat that would be trapped under the plastic?

I also plan on buying a bale of straw so I can mulch the bed - that should cut back on the soil compaction caused by raindrops constantly hitting the soil.

We had roughly 15" of rain in May. For perspective, Seattle typically sees that amount in December, January and February combined. Hopefully we'll get down closer to the 3-4" we typically see in June, but it doesn't look promising right now.

As for the ants, I'm not really worried at the moment because I'm halfway hoping they'll all get drowned out! Who knew that we'd have more rainy days here in St Louis than I left behind in Seattle?

Melinda said...

The plastic will definitely hold in heat... so will the frost blanket. You'll have to remove them when it's really sunny, unfortunately.

When you mulch, be careful to leave a few inches around the base of your plants, as you don't want to keep in moisture there - they may rot. Also, the mulch will overall keep in moisture when you want to get it out... you may want to hold off until the soil dries a bit.

And OMG that is a lot of rain!!!!! The frost blanket should help quite a bit. Just keep an eye on it, to make sure things don't get too hot. You may want to buy a thermometer to check the soil temp (you can buy a candy thermometer for a couple dollars in a kitchen store and just poke it a few inches into the soil). Make sure the soil temp doesn't go above 85 or so. In my growing rack, the soil gets up to 90 and it's generally ok for short periods.

Lori said...

my seester,
I compromised here. The frost blanket (it's the lightest weight one they had, so it shouldn't be TOO hot) is on there, but I did leave the bottom few inches of the fencing exposed to allow some air circulation to cool it down a bit.

I hadn't thought much about soil temperature - I wonder if a raised bed in a St Louis summer would get over 85 degrees on a regular basis. We have a meat thermometer Rob keeps wanting to replace, so maybe I can use that for the garden and check it out.

Yep, it's a lot of rain. The soil is damp enough that we have little mushrooms popping up in the planter right now. Good thought on the mulch - I definitely don't want to hold in any more water than I have to, so if the frost blanket doesn't hold in too much water I can do without the mulch for a while.

The good news is that we did not have a thunderstorm last night (for the first time in weeks), and we are not expecting any rain today. Whew. Of course, the cycle is predicted to start up again tomorrow.

Lori said...

Heat, I meant to say. If the frost blanket doesn't hold in too much heat. Guess I had water on the brain.