Saturday, May 30, 2009

Heat Wave

With south and west winds blowing all week, the leaves and flowers have come out in full force (+20 C highs, +10 C lows on average). The rain barrels have run dry. So this week required City water as backup for germinating seedlings sown directly in the garden. This is a new experiment with a lot more direct seeding this year than previous years. The heat may have scorched some, and the previous cold weather rotted others, as the germination in general is poor. Next year the plan is to start more inside and transplant as this has proven to be more successful for most plants.

Most of the Green Arrow Peas planted directly in the garden April 11 have not come up. This is not surprising as this was an early planting and warm weather was delayed this spring. They likely rotted before the soil warmed up enough. Three of the four Dwarf Green Curled Kale planted directly in the garden April 11 came up but one has been mowed down by some hungry critter (cabbage butterflies?). The other two are about 1 cm tall with some munching on those as well. Kale definitely seems to do better as a transplant (or perhaps planting directly in garden at a later date?).

The California Poppies (above) thrive in the warm weather.

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard (above) planted May 2 makes progress, currently at the four-leaf stage. It has had the best germination of all seeds planted directly in the garden this year. Peas are seen behind the Swiss Chard in the photo.

Tomatoes up to about 5 cm diameter! This is the one plant that flowered inside from which the flowers were not plucked off.

Oregano transplanted this week from inside. Planted indoors March 7.

Strawberries growing strong, transplanted from neighbours patch May 2.

Raspberries transplanted from aunt & uncle's garden May 24 with Violet tagging along on the journey.

Cherry Belle Radish (above) planted directly in garden April 11. About 70% germination overall, 20% mowed down, 50% remaining. Sparse seed spacing so didn't need much thinning (but also some gaps in rows).

Rhubarb thrives in the warm weather with no care needed. Raspberry (bottom left of above photo) transplanted May 24 growing strong. Two of the five raspberry transplants are wilting, likely did not get enough of the roots.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tomato Transplant - Cold Frame #2

With a change of winds in the forecast (north to south winds) and the tomatoes becoming seriously root-bound, a risk was taken with transplantation to the outside world (May 21). They wilted for the first day or so, likely complaining primarily about the drastic drop in soil temperature they experienced (i.e. 20 °C to maybe 5 to 10 °C). A cold frame was built consisting of the old windows used in the Cold Frame #1 experiment to help warm up the soil and protect them at night. In hindsight the cold frame should have been constructed a few weeks in advance to pre-warm the soil (note to self for next year).

Note Kale & Brussels Sprouts on the left (transplant from generous neighbour) & Lovage in the center (in above photo). Peas and Swiss Chard are just starting to break the surface (can't see in this photo).
Part of the experiment was to test the cold frame in frost conditions with a sensitive plant like tomatoes. Frost was predicted that night, so last minute scrambling resulted in blankets and tarps over the windows and a 60W bulb placed inside to provide a heat source (a method used successfully by my aunt). I had plans to put a fan inside as well to circulate the heat, but due to limitations with the extension cord and time, only the light was used in the end.

The tomatoes survived the night with a frost of about -1.4 °C according to Environment Canada measurement at the Calgary International Airport. The Middle Earth Garden is about the same elevation as the airport and within 4km or so. So the airport temperatures are likely a good approximation for now.

A high-low recording thermometer is on the list of items to purchase for future experimentation. If anyone can recommend a thermometer please let me know. All the ones I've seen so far at Canadian Tire are battery operated digital and I'm trying to find a non-battery type. Searching just now there is one at Lee Valley. I have not been there yet as it is a bit far by bicycle. I suppose a digital thermometer with an indoor alarm for low temperature might be handy too, maybe establish trending into the computer... OK maybe too high-tech for this low-tech garden operation!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Last Frost Day (Sort Of)

Predicting the last frost day is always a gamble. As another food growing blogger writes, "tiny farming is in the end about a very natural, basic and satisfying form of gambling". For the Calgary area, the average last frost day is May 20. Since this year is below average in general, it is possible, if not likely, that the last frost day could be a week or two later.

Statistically the average last frost date represents a 50% chance that no frost will occur after that date. If you'd like to decrease (or increase) the risk of your plant investments, you can use the following Freezing Date Adjustment Factor (below):

According to this factor you can expect the chance of frost in Calgary after June 4 to be reduced to 10% (15 days after May 20). Note that the graph does not provide a 0% chance of frost after any particular date! According to Alberta government records, the Calgary area has seen as low as -2 C in July at least once in the last century.

The freedom from frost in this part of the world is no guarantee at any time. For the Middle Earth Garden this is not a large concern. Large parts of the garden can be covered if a frost is predicted. But of course frost is not always predictable. Hence the gamble. My investment is small, but for larger commercial growers this risk can be serious. This is where frost insurance comes in. For this garden, frost insurance is the local grocery store!

Agroclimatology - Growing-Degree Days

Today brings rain and sleet, with temperatures hovering around +1 °C. Rhubarb and other plant growth will be more or less paused for today.

Minimum temperature for plant growth is generally between 0 to 10 °C, depending on the plant. Some examples of minimum threshold temperatures for growth of some plants and insects (from here) include:
  • 2.2 Spinach
  • 4.4 Lettuce
  • 5.0 General plant growth
  • 6.0 Cabbage maggot
  • 7.0 Potatoes
  • 7.0 Variegated cutworm
  • 10.0 Corn and beans
  • 10.0 Grasshoppers, corn borers
  • 15.0 General insect development

The minimum threshold temperature is used as the base temperature to calculate Growing-Degree Days. The Middle Earth Garden has about 1200 to 1350 total degree days above 5°C based on data recorded from 1971 to 2000 (see map below).

If anyone has more information on Growing-Degree Days (GDD) or related topics please feel free to share. I'm trying to find a chart of GDD for different vegetables but as yet unable to find anything.
The Lovage (above) came up after I dug the entire garden lightly with a shovel. I didn't realize it was perennial. Now I know! It came up shifted over somewhat from its former resting place, fortunately surviving the shovel abuse. Apparently Lovage is a good companion plant to almost all plants and considered a "magic bullet" of companion planting.

The rain barrels were drained dry after a temporary heat wave last Saturday and Sunday (+20 °C), watering freshly planted seeds including bush beans and spinach. The heat wave was caused by the locally well known chinook wind or less locally but more internationally well known föhn/foehn wind to be more meteorologically correct.

Today this gardener has retreated inside while the rain barrels refresh ready for the next change of winds.


The North Wind has returned and some experimenting with the tomatoes has resulted. First, an attempted temporary cold frame consisting of plastic bins and old windows I got free from a neighbour a few blocks away who was upgrading his windows.

But with daytime highs dropping to the +10 °C range, the tomatoes were moved back inside. The plant light is put away, so the next experiment involved aluminum foil behind the tomatoes to increase the natural light from the window. The window is south facing, but due to the roof overhang it does not receive direct sunlight after the spring equinox. Not ideal for plants. But good for keeping the house cool in summer and hopefully enough light for the tomatoes to hold out for another week or two until they can be transplanted outside (I'm thinking last week in May or first week in June). They seem to be doing OK. I can easily bring the plant light back if needed. Next year I won't plant them quite so early (or get bigger pots).

I pulled the flowers off 4 of the 5 plants as recommended in an article I read. It recommended pulling the flowers off if they bloom before transplanting but did not explain why. Consulting with my aunt, she thinks it might help the plant focus on growing roots rather than fruit after transplanting. And might cause the plant to grow larger before flowering again and bearing fruit. Any other thoughts or advice? The plant I left the flowers on has already started producing small tomatoes about 1 cm in diameter. I might almost be harvesting those indoors this year!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Migration to Outside

The tomatoes, onions, etc and myself have been cooped up inside for too long. No more plant light for these folks, it's outside every day from now until transplanting. My mom recommended placing a note on my pillow as Murphy's Law says the one night you forget to take them in at night is the last hard frost day. This year I'm wondering if that might be early June.

Garden Art (various skill levels involved).

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) coming up early as usual. Likes the hot sun and poor, dry soil conditions along south facing concrete house wall.
Plumeria likes the outside sun and decides to start blooming (I don't have an advanced camera so can't do close-ups well).

Early Harvest! Southport White Globe Onions (planted indoors early March). Taste mostly like chives, and delicious fresh!