Monday, November 28, 2011

Late Night in the Garden

I check the weather forecast almost every time I get online, which means I often check it several times a day -- because I might look for the daily highs one time, then look at the lows, then have to check again because I can't remember what the precipitation chances were. And then they change. Quite regularly. Especially when cold fronts are involved. Supposedly, cold fronts are less predictable than warm fronts.
Winter Density Romaine.
Anyway, I was winding down after a busy day on Saturday evening and checked the forecast (for the first time that day, actually) a few minutes before guests were to arrive.

I was not pleased when I saw that Sunday night's low was supposed to hit 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Ack! My lettuces!" was my immediate response. The weather had been quite lovely for November. Cold enough for a fire in the stove, but not so bitter I had to worry about the lettuce and cabbage and other cold-weather vegetables in the garden.

I knew the hard weather was coming, however. By Thanksgiving last year, I had the lettuce tucked under a plastic "low tunnel," with lights and black buckets full of water, and all kinds of contraptions for adding a few extra degrees of warmth. If you were around the blog last year, you read my tale of near disaster on the night before Thanksgiving. The weather this year was a bit kinder. Yet I had intended to put the plastic over my lettuce beds last week, so I wouldn't have to rush.

But, the forecast said rain on Friday. After this dry summer, I was not going to pass up a chance to get rain on the garden, so I postponed the plastic application. About an inch of rain fell Friday night, a very nice amount. I was glad the lettuces had gotten a final drink.
Rouge Grenobloise Lettuce. Don't ask me to pronounce it.
Saturday was spent preparing brussels sprouts for roasting and a tofu "turkey" (which I mangled, but it tasted good) for my family's Thanksgiving feasting on Sunday, and I cleaned the house for Saturday evening guests. Taking care of the lettuces could wait until Monday... or Tuesday, or even Wednesday.

When I saw the 17 degrees forecast for Sunday night, my heart sank. No time to do anything Saturday. No time before heading out on Sunday morning. I could look forward to hauling out the old sheets and blankets to cover the lettuce beds after getting home Sunday night. Yay.

So, after a feastful day with my family on Sunday, I arrived home after dark, put away the leftovers, changed into warm clothes and went out to the garden with a wheelbarrow full of old sheets and blankets. Frost was already forming on the grass and everything else by the time I went out. It was dark under a moonless sky. The outdoor light on the side of the garage gave marginal illumination of the garden.

Young Deerstongue Lettuce, still growing.
After a bit of wrangling with sheets and a little cursing (all right, a lot of cursing), I finally went inside for a headlamp. With the extra light, my job was easier and went more quickly. When the lettuce was tucked in I looked at the rows of kale, broccoli and brussels sprouts protected only by a thin row cover and hoped they could take the plunge in temperatures.

I went inside and immediately checked the forecast again, hoping for another change. Maybe 17 was a mistake. Good. They increased the low... to 19.

My husband asked about the brussels sprouts and other greens. Would they be OK? Should they be covered, too?

Oh, I don't know. (Big heavy sigh.) I'd have to get into the attic above the garage to get more sheets and blankets (which meant moving the cars), then go out into the cold, dark night. That's a lot of hassle.

How would you feel if you lost all of our winter greens? my husband asked.
Royal Oakleaf Lettuce. Very robust.
Not good -- Really, I would feel bad. (Another big heavy sigh.)

We moved the cars and got more sheets and blankets out of the attic, piled them in a wheelbarrow and went back out into the cold, dark night. This time I say we, which made the task easier to swallow.

Then we went to bed. The thermometer fell to 24 by the time we rose at 5:34 a.m.

I went out late Monday morning, when the thermometer had risen to the mid 30s. Shady spots still had frost on the ground, but the sun was shining and the air was calm, so it was pretty comfortable working in the garden. Later in the day, I had to take off my coat because I was sweating, although the temperature didn't get above 45.

A tiny little cauliflower head -- Finally!
Anyway, the lettuce made it. So did everything else. The still air made putting the plastic over the beds a fairly easy job. I picked some kale and collards, some more lettuce and three lovely cabbages. The heads were on the small side, but the big leaves that surrounded the heads were perfectly lovely and won't go to waste. The heads will become sauerkraut and the outer leaves will become cabbage soup.

Tonight's low is suppose to only fall to 29. Then tomorrow night it falls into the upper teens again. I guess winter has entered the stage.

I don't know whether I will bother with lights in the lettuce beds again. I did leaves some row cover scrunched to the side under the plastic tunnels, so I can easily cover the lettuces on the chillier nights. The sheets and blankets also will remain at ready for the really cold nights.

Now I will need to vent the plastic tunnels whenever the weather is warmer than 45 and sunny, so it doesn't get too hot in there. (Keep my eye on the weather forcast, whether it's up or down.) But the lettuce should keep growing for a little while, and with any luck, the radish seed I planted while the tunnels were open will sprout and give us early spring radishes. I haven't tried that before. We'll see. The garden is always an experiment.

Two Jersey Wakefield Cabbages and a romaine.


Elaine said...

I really enjoyed that post - but my goodness the life of a gardener is not an easy one, what with battles against pests and defence against the extremes of weather. We were pleased with our attempts this year but hope to extend our growing season next year as I really feel my husband and I could do better and must try harder!

Sandra M. Siebert said...

My life isn't so hard. I love doing it, so often it feels like play. The garden does have its challenges, though. I try to stay away from looking at it as a "battle" or "warfare," though. I try not to color any part of my life with that type of attitude. I prefer to look at it as a challenge, learning to work with nature and find ways to nurture without defiance.

Elaine said...

Hello Sandra, Apologies if my language caused you offence. My husband is an ex Royal Marine and so words like 'battle' are part of his vocabulary which I have absorbed. We also work with nature and do not use chemicals. Our gardens are both a source of huge pleasure and an immense amount of hard work!

Sandra M. Siebert said...

Elaine, I took no offense. Lots of people use that terminology, I also have used it. It is difficult sometimes not to see the garden as a battleground, so many things seem to work against you. I merely wanted to explain my philosophy about actively trying to change my attitude. I apologize if I sounded chastizing.