Sunday, 29 May 2011

Down came the rain...

Yes, the Strawberry Tower looks healthy but look below. the grass is browning off through the lack of rain. We last had a decent downpour in March. That's a long time and a lot of watering ago. We are fortunate on our site to have free water troughs provided but not everyone is as lucky. The last few weeks, as in every spring, has meant careful and regular tending of seedlings. Those first weeks of a plants establishment are vital and any traumatic experiences, such as drought or frost, can seriously stress the plant and detrimentally affect it beyond repair. Small incidents can trigger distortion of the leaves,stunted growth or a general weakness towards disease and pests.
A lack of regular water is probably the most damaging thing a plant can experience at such an early stage in its development, with the exception of pest attack.
Like most gardeners, I water with a watering can, making several trips to and from the water trough on site each time I visit. Now, with each can carrying 9 litres, that's a lot of trips and a lot of water but if you ever wait and then scratch at the watered surface, you'll find the artificial rain hasn't penetrated that far down. 
It's never easy to imitate natural rainfall so it was a great relief when the skies opened and poured that wonderful liquid down last week. The first time I managed to get to the plot after two days of heavy long showers the ground smelled of that sweet rich scent that always follows a much needed rain fall. The soil was darker and looked almost like it had swollen , gorged on the recent down pouring. The other sign of the rains effect was the visible growth on all the crops. 
The rain we long for only comes if drizzle or swift, high impact showers that run off the surface and away before it can soak into the soil, where the roots can use it. When it rains slowly, consistently for a prolonged period, the soil swells like a full sponge and can release that stored goodness over a long time,providing the plants with all the water they need.
One thing to remember when the rain doesn't fall is that even on a cloudy day, the plants will lose water through their leaves, a method described as transpiration. This is similar in principle to animals sweating. They also suffer from wind, but thankfully not in any way similar to animals!
Wind on plants has the same effect as wind on your laundry. When it blows across, with or without the added sun, it dries things out. Dessication is the name of the game. Drying out the leaves and the soil beneath them.
So, water whenever it has been dry, not just when it's been sunny and hot.

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