Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gardening in NE Ohio can be a challenge!

I've lived in NE Ohio all my life, so you figure that by now I'd know what to expect when it comes to the weather and be able to plan my gardening activities accordingly.  Unfortunately the one thing about our weather that you can count on is that it's unpredictable!  I've been gardening for almost 15 years, and I've had to get pretty creative to help my plants thrive some years.  This year I started my Bell Peppers and Eggplants indoors a little earlier than usual because they take so long to produce vegetables.  A few weeks ago the weather was pretty nice so I started hardening them off by leaving them outside in a sheltered location for a few hours a day.  Gradually I increased the time outside and their sun exposure.  This allows them to adjust to outdoor conditions, which are quite different from what they've been growing in inside.  Calcifer enjoyed checking out the plants after I brought them in each day.
I've learned from experience that simply putting these plants in the garden with no additional protection is risky.  In Spring we have severe thunderstorm with heavy rain, gusty winds, and sometimes even hail.  I've lost many plants to the ravages of a Spring storm!  Wall O Waters have helped save many plants since I started using them.  They're plastic tubes you fill with water and they form a teepee over the young plants.  The water warms in the sun and protects the plants from cold weather by raising the temperature inside.  They also protect the plants from wind, heavy rain, and hail.
I set these out a week before I planted my peppers and eggplants so the soil would warm up.  Then when I was ready to put the plant in the ground I moved the Wall O Water and centered the plant.  These are two of my pepper plants.
Then I do something that may seem weird- I place a can with the top and bottom cut off over the plants and press it firmly into the dirt.
This acts as a protective collar and keeps cutworms and other crawling insects from attacking the young plants.  I've seen all my peppers wiped out overnight by cutworms.  They chew the plant at the base of the stem, and then just leave the toppled leaves.  For the last few years I've been saving cans and using them like this.  It really seems to help and allows the plants to safely grow big enough without being damaged.  Then I (carefully) put the Wall O Water back over the plant, making sure the bottom is flared out and the top is at least mostly closed.  This will help retain heat, and give added protection from heavy rain and hail. 
I closed this one up after I got the picture. ;-)
And since I planted these guys we've had temperatures down in the 30's, several bad thunderstorms with sleet and hail, and heavy sustained winds.  I checked on them every day (wading through inches of water between the raised beds) and was surprised to see that they actually look pretty good.  When I put my hand inside the Wall O Waters it feels much warmer than the outside temperature, and none of the teepees was blown over in the storms either.  If we can get a few days without rain I think the beds should drain and their roots won't get waterlogged.  I really did think it would be warmer by now: normal temps for this time of year are in the 50's and lower 60's.  But NE Ohio is anything but "normal" when it comes to weather!
-Michelle of CreativeCritters

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