Prairie View

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spring Break Saturday Message

Here is a message I'm sending out to the members of my food production class on this Saturday morning. of spring break.

The Kansas Gardener's nightmare is coming true.  Lows here on Sunday night are predicted to be 26 degrees and on Tuesday night 24 degrees.  I honestly don't know how much cold our transplants can tolerate, but anything below 28 scares me. We're not expecting a nice thick blanket of insulating snow, but possible sleet or light snow or rain--none of which would do a lot for keeping things toasty warm around the plants.  I'm afraid the early-blooming fruit trees will be fruitless this year.

If you have milk jugs over your plants, I would suggest putting the lids on the jugs at 4:00 PM today (while today's temperature is still at its peak), and leaving them on at least through sometime Monday, and then replacing them again before Tuesday night.  The idea is to not allow them to overheat while the sun is out (so the lids should stay off then), and then replacing the lids in time to trap some of the warm air inside the jug to help protect the plants through the cold nights.

Another measure you can take to help plants survive the cold is to water well early in the day today.  Wet soil absorbs and stores more heat than dry soil.  Also, dark soil (it's darker when it's wetter) absorbs more heat than light soil.

Hiromi and I plan to water everything early today, and then cover everything with fabrics from our big box of "garden fabrics" in the shop.  The box contains old sheets, blankets, big pieces of plastic, row cover--anything that might keep heat trapped around the plants.  We'll undoubtedly have to weigh them down somehow to keep them from blowing away.  This is a big pain, but fortunately our lettuce and cole crops are on the south side of the shop, so they'll have some wind protection from the north.  The onion patch is directly south of the lettuce and cole crops, and will therefore have less wind protection.

Covering plants with straw could also work--especially for onions, which you might wish to mulch anyway.  We've done this in the past, but--fair warning here--straw in the trench of Mittleider beds can be a problem.  All my plants are in Mittleider beds.

This is a good time to ponder what you might do to protect your garden area from strong winds.  Spring winds are brutal for tender plants, and north winds usually usher in cold air.  Summer winds--usually south winds--can be very drying.  Storm systems often are accompanied by east (early in the cyclel) and/or west winds (late in the cycle).  Weighing these factors leads me to believe that windbreak trees (like Red Cedar) are ideal on the north and west (the protected area extends to ten times the height of the trees, so you don't have to plant them too close to the garden).  On the south, deciduous shrubs with multiple stems all the way to the ground and dense summer foliage make sense.  I like the idea of planting a row of small or dwarf fruit trees on the garden side of the shrub row.  If you plant evergreens there,  make them low-growing ones, or you'll never be able to enjoy a cooling breeze while you're working outside during the summer.  On the east, a solid or semi-solid fence seems like a good thing--not too tall for the sake of the air circulation, which keeps the gardener cool and helps limit disease pressure for plants.

I'm also praying for your and my plants' survival.  If they don't survive--well maybe that's what seeds and Stutzman's are for.  And, as my dad used to say . . . It's a lot easier to be at peace with a loss if you count the value of the experience high enough.


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