the heat of May

Over the last month we experienced a stretch of drought conditions, finally got some soaking rains, and recently the daytime temperatures have been in the 90s, at one point for a 4-day stretch. This is interesting because it doesn’t necessarily mean that plants are growing really fast and looking great. In fact, a lot of what vegetable farmers rely on in the spring (lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes) do not respond well to excessive heat and sunshine, entering seed production mode and sending up a flower stalk to begin this process. When this happens, edible radish roots cease to form, and leafy greens take on a bitter taste and leaves no longer grow broad a lush. 

Mostly it seems we have avoided this, although in the greenhouse, where the temperature has been over 100 during the day, radishes are flowering, and even a couple of beet plants have thrown up flower stalks as well. Fortunately the spinach has all been harvested.

On the other hand, for crops that thrive on summer heat (tomatoes, zucchini, peppers), this weather means it is time to grow! All varieties of our tomatoes, planted outdoors with no cover, are flowering, and we even see the beginning of fruit formation; I did not expect this in May in Wisconsin! Yesterday I also spied some of the first tiny yellow summer squash, meaning harvest will commence very soon.

 Red Express cabbage
Red Express cabbage

The fast growth that can happen in hot weather is dependent on other factors, too, and moisture level is a critical one. Rainfall soaked the soil and plants absorbed this water for days. We decided to run our sprinklers for brief periods during the hottest weather in an attempt to cool some plants, especially radishes, kale, cabbages, lettuce, and arugula. A little extra water was also needed in beds with newly transplanted crops, including winter squashes (butternut, golden acorn, delicata, and more).

For our irrigation needs, which are simple this year given our very small growing area, I ran 3/4-inch plastic tubing from the wash/pack barn, which has well access, down the small hill, over the gully, and back up to the vegetable area, perhaps about 200 feet. After entering the field, there is a 4-way coupler with valves that allows us to hook up our sprinklers (seen above near the beets), which are Xcel Wobbler sprinklers on homemade risers of PVC pipe and fittings. These are easily attachable to garden hose, and I should say that none of this is my idea: it is outlined in the Lean Farm vegetable growers guide. 

Pictured with the heirloom zucchini and my feet is a line of drip irrigation, which serves tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, winter squash, melons, and potatoes: the crops that are most susceptible to diseases that are worsened by frequent drenching with sprinklers. Each line comes directly off of the 3/4-inch tubing and there is a valve that allows the drip section to be turned on or off as needed. It’s simple and it has worked well so far, and we are very happy that the farm well is suiting our needs quite… well.

Thanks for reading!


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