Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Windy + Hot + Sunny=A Fantastic Dehydrator!

A few posts ago I described my battle with blossom end rot. While I do think that watering was the major issue, as newer fruits set since I began being more meticulous with watering seem to be rot free, I have begun to wonder if the combination of heat and wind has also played a role.

Like most of the country, the Buffalo region has been very hot and very dry so far this summer. While we can battle the lack of water by irrigating daily, the heat and wind has taken its toll on the garden.

The okra LOVES the heat (look at all those pods)!
Being that we are upstairs, it is generally quite a bit windier than ground level. It’s amazing the difference 13-15 feet can make. We’re a bit higher than many second floors, as the first floor of most homes here in the city is a few feet above actual ground level. While this makes living upstairs even more fun than normal for those of us who enjoy the privacy and cool factor of having a view, it’s amazing how much difference it makes in terms of wind. On the ground, you have walls, cars, bushes, etc. acting as windbreaks. Upstairs there is very little in the way of windbreak, and the wind currents are funneled pretty effectively down the streets and against the fronts of the houses. In addition, it is a solid 10-15 degrees warmer upstairs, given the heat radiating off of the porch floor (which although carpeted is still a black tarred roof), road, sidewalks, and buildings. Finally, we get the most intense sun, as we face west on this side of the road.

Check out this video of the wind on Monday! (big gust at :20)

Combine the intense afternoon sun with the high temperatures and low humidity on the porch due to the heat and constant wind, and you have a fairly effective dehydrator. For example, the winds Monday were brutal, with gusts up to 40 mph and sustained winds in the 20-30 mph range. The temperature measured on top of the soil in one of the containers on the porch in the hot sun was 106 degrees (with a high of 109). 106 degrees, paired with hot sun and intense wind will dry out pretty much any plant. On hotter days I’ve measured temperatures as high as 126 degrees, even with significant wind! This might be great for making jerky, but tomatoes in particular do not seem to appreciate it. I will say that okra and eggplant seem to love the intense heat, and if anything are thriving in it. Still, tomatoes are the centerpiece of many home gardens, so this presents a challenge.

It's hot out there!
 Battling the hot sun and dry weather is challenging, but add in the almost daily stiff breeze with the fairly common days of strong winds and it becomes daunting to battle dehydration and the resulting end rot issues. My solution yesterday was to bring every plant inside and fill our apartment with tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, and squash. It was a drastic measure, but after watching the plants get thrashed around and having several branches snap off I had to act. The final straw for me was watching a full-size heirloom tomato in a 7 gallon pot, which had just been watered and had 4 bricks set in the dirt for weight, get knocked over with ease. This caused it to drop 2 beautiful looking large tomatoes, so I was taking no more chances. Every plant except the largest tomatoes, which are staked and tied to the porch railing for support, came inside to ride out the wind storm.

Tomatoes in the living room
 I am happy to say that losses were mitigated. The jellybean cherry tomato plant dropped about 30 green tomatoes (not that I counted them as I gathered them from all over the living room floor or anything) when it got knocked over again—this time inside the apartment by a wind gust coming in through the open window. But it is loaded with blossoms and ripening fruit, so although I am not happy about it I am not too upset. The black krim also dropped a fairly large tomato, but it was one of the remaining fruits from the first set, and predictably had blossom end rot, so no big loss there either.

The moral of the story is not to overlook the damaging and dehydrating effects that wind can have on your garden. I have to water every single day, partly due to the sun and heat, but also in large measure due to the daily stiff breeze that fans the plants and dries them right out. Plants can lose a lot of water through their leaves due to evaporation, and this effect is sped up exponentially when it is windy. I picked up the bell peppers in their 7 gallon pots to move them and they felt like they weighed almost nothing, which means they were bone dry already. I had watered them very deeply just that afternoon. Beware of the wind! You’ll need to water much more than you think if it gets windy.

On another note, I am putting together a harvest tally chart, which will be featured on the link right below the header of the blog. It’s amazing how much we’ve already enjoyed so far, and the main harvests are still to come! Look for that page to go live in the next few days. It is one of the main reasons I started this blog, since it is hard to find that type of information in a convenient and easy to use form anywhere.

Until next time, happy gardening!

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