Heat Domes and Myths

I staked up some peppers yesterday. There is a ‘heat dome’ hovering over the midwest, and this is precisely the time that I generally choose to twiddle in the garden. Because I make poor choices.

It was approximately seventeen hundred degrees when I noticed that the garden was suffering from a bit of a wither, and furthermore three of the pepper plants had given out altogether and laid their sad little bodies down to rest. The cucumbers were just starting to show the first signs of dehydration, and of the tomatoes, only two or three of the five-foot monsters—those that found themselves in the unfortunate spot where the landscape fabric had vaporized and laid bare the soil to harden and crack—were looking peaked. The situation wasn’t dire, but it was threatening.

Yes, we use landscape fabric as the canvas on which we paint our garden. Scoff if you must, but next time you spend your entire afternoon on your knees battling quack, think of me. I’ll be watching my garden grow from my camp chair, Arnold Palmer in hand.

The weather man predicted rain for last night, but as I stood there amid my thirsty plot of land, I was not entirely convinced he knew what he was talking about, so I made plans to drag out the hose as soon as the sun sank low enough to not scorch my babies through a million water droplet magnifying lenses.

This foresight shows either that I am a seasoned gardener, or a gullible gardener. I have, on more than one occasion, sprinkled my greenery with certain death while the sun beat down like a blowtorch from straight overhead. Sometimes there is a lapse in judgment. Sometimes there is unvarnished desperation. But no matter my excuse, and despite the generations of admonishments against such a practice, I have never noticed ill-effects. I am beginning to thing that the rumor weeds are infesting decades of sound gardening advice. Still, I held off for less direct baking rays.

I used my interim period to snip some nice supports from the piles of brush and tree tops recently removed from the vicinity of the chicken coop. Previously employed as shade for the birds and—more accurately—cover for the incoming chicken-eating raccoon parade, I was happy to redeem a few branches in the service of an act of creation, or salvation as it were. I trimmed them up expertly, disinterred the twine ball from its hiding spot in our mudroom cubbies (proud to announce that it was still in a ball, and not a tornadic mass of twine and everything else that crossed its path since its last use), and headed back out to the garden. The heat had swelled to nearing eighteen hundred degrees. I lost three gallons of blood and sweat whilst fashioning pepper stints and drilling them like a madwoman into the soil. I could have softened things up, with some water, but who knew the damages I could unleash upon those plants. So I drilled and I wriggled and I drilled some more. The stakes held, albeit a bit wobbly in their carved out holes, just sturdy enough to hold the peppers skyward in the hopes of resurrection, and I trudged back into my air-conditioned oasis to re-hydrate myself.

Hours later, as the sun dropped behind the first layer of tree cover, I returned to the garden with hose in hand. The heat had not subsided, but the death rays were muted; my plants could safely soak up their shower. Wishing we had a working sprinkler, I stood out in the heat for forty-five minutes, alternately serving each stalk with its allotted refreshment and misting myself, a required measure to prevent human wilt.

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This morning I wandered out to see how the garden grows (it didn’t rain last night, she reports with a smirk). The peppers are upright, their rickety supports holding strong (I may have dug them in a few inches deeper after the hose delivered its soil tenderizer), the tomatoes look fine (although I am coming to believe that those three plants in particular are just voicing their displeasure with the state of the fabric in their immediate vicinity), and the cucumber leaves have tightened back up marvelously. Success.

A little research with Dr. Google, however, reveals the hard truth that I am not seasoned (nor even smart enough to trust my own experimental data), but only gullible. The age-old advice to not water mid-day, is indeed a myth. Dr. Gabor Horvath did the research. How hard was that? Turns out (prepare to be amazed), the same hot sun that we are worried about incinerating our leaves does a great job at evaporating the water off of the leaves long before any leaf burn can occur.

Sigh.

In the interest of full disclosure: As I write this, it is thundering, and the first drops of rain are pattering down on my roof (and my newly watered garden). Double sigh.

If you need me, I’ll be conducting further research,
KJ

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